By Jonathan Soder, Features Editor
It’s no secret that downtown Shawnee is a district fraught with contradictions. It’s a place for many students, of aesthetic and spiritual beauty.
Every other Thursday night, students congregate together in the Ritz Theatre for an hour-long worship service.
The amalgamated concrete-brick walls are also popular backdrops for impromptu photoshoots.
On the other hand, downtown is also home to many of the folks who make up Shawnee’s homeless population, a people group who are often left voiceless.
Just yesterday, this population found itself mere blocks from one of Shawnee’s voting centers, Pottawatomie County Courthouse, during this year’s general elections.
Brandon Bryant is one of the homeless men who can be found downtown. At age 39, he’s now been homeless since June 2018.
Before Nov. 6, Bryant most recently voted in the 2016 presidential elections.
He said he’s rooting for democratic candidate Drew Edmonson, though he likely wasn’t going to have the opportunity to vote. This was in part due to the obstacles he faces as a homeless man.
“[One obstacle is] trying to get on and make sure that I’m registered to vote and stuff,” Bryant said. “I didn’t have all my documents with me.”
Gaining proper documentation is of particular difficulty for homeless citizens.
In order to receive a voter I.D., citizens must fill out a form that requires both a physical and mailing address – both of which homeless people tend not to have.
Another of Shawnee’s longtime homeless citizens, Jose, who’s requested his last name not be shared, has spent between 5-7 years homeless throughout the span of his life.
Contrary to Bryant, he said he had no intention to participate in this year’s general elections.
“I figure, well okay, if I do vote for the person, are they going to go sit in the office and do what they’re supposed to do in the office, or are they going to do something else, you know?” Jose said.
Though the men differed in their attitude toward voting, both said that they believe their voice matters.
“Every vote counts,” Bryant said. “Every vote matters.”
Jose echoed this sentiment, adding that, if someone wants something done, there are different voices to be heard on that issue.
Another perceived problem for homeless people during campaign seasons is keeping up with political campaigns and discussions.
However, Jose said that he was able to keep up with campaigns.
“Elections are different times of the season, you know, they’re not all the time,” Jose said.
Bryant, who said he had a little harder time keeping up, got most of the information he had on the elections from the news and the newspaper, though he did not specify any specific channel or publication.
Major aspects of American political campaigning are the “big issues” – those topics which prove most vital for candidates to have a favorable answer to in order to garner votes.
Another important issue for many Americans is the validity of a candidates bid in regards to several factors – trustworthiness, capability, etc.
Jose expressed these issues and not “big issues” are his top priorities when considering candidates?
“Are they qualified to do what they’re supposed to do,” Jose said. “Do they really want the office and [to] do what they’re supposed to do, or are they just running for that office just to be running for it, and then [they’ll] get in there after they’re elected and do something that they’re not supposed to do?”
At the time of this publication’s printing, the results of the general elections were yet unknown.
It’s doubtless that many of Shawnee’s homeless citizens had no say in the outcome, though whether that was due to lack of documentation or abstention from voting is less clear.
In either case, the voice of the homeless population in Shawnee is a large one which isn’t being heard from.