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Homeless man pulls out of City Council race

Bruce Shawen won't run for District 4 seat because he can't provide permanent address

Photo: Christopher Balogh, License: N/A

Christopher Balogh

Bruce Shawen has been homeless for the past three years. His beat-up wallet holds little more than a Florida state and voter ID card. He’s lived in the City Beautiful since 2005, he says. He used to live in a bungalow near Fern Creek Avenue and Colonial Drive, which he moved out of in 2008 when he was laid off from his job as a plumber and couldn’t afford the rent. More recently, he’s stayed in a tent in the woods or the comparative luxury of a city homeless shelter.

In July 2011, Shawen filed to run for City Council. He wanted to challenge incumbent Commissioner Patty Sheehan for her District 4 seat, but on Feb. 10, he sent a disappointing email message to his supporters.

“I was unable to qualify as a candidate for the Orlando City Commissioner ballot due to the fact that I do not rent, lease or own property in the city of Orlando and am not therefore considered to be a resident or citizen thereof. (I believe Orwell called it being an ‘un-person’),” he wrote. “Despite my best efforts in producing letters from several organizations (on official letterhead) indicating that I have been known to be a resident of Orlando for many years, and despite having been a registered voter in Orlando since 2008, apparently having no rental agreement, lease or deed to property has disqualified me from the running.”

With that, Shawen pulled out of the race.

“It’s unnerving that I am good enough to vote, but not good enough to be on the ballot,” Shawen says. “What am I? A piece of furniture?”

Shawen says the Salvation Army gave him proof-of-residency documentation when he needed it to obtain his state and voter ID cards, but when he asked the organization for documentation that would qualify him for the election, he found himself on a political merry-go-round.

“They passed me off from administrator to administrator for most of the time,” he says. “Then I was told by an administrator that they would not be able to give me the documentation, because they don’t want to be involved in the political arena.”

Vicki Hastings, public relations coordinator for the Salvation Army, says that due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which requires agencies that provide health-related services to maintain client privacy, she cannot discuss Shawen’s situation.

“Due to HIPAA regulations, the Salvation Army can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Shawen has ever been a resident at our Men’s Shelter,” she says. She says that, generally, the Salvation Army can provide letters of residency “for our long-term transitional residents.”

“However, this fact is not really relevant, since the Salvation Army can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Shawen was ever here,” she says.

After failing to get help from the Salvation Army, Shawen requested letters from other homeless-advocacy organizations and individuals who could verify that he lived in Orlando. He also had to raise enough money to pay the filing fees required to run for office. First, he tried to get a waiver by filing affidavits, which would require him to obtain 641 signatures of registered voters in the city. He only managed to gather about 70 signatures, so he decided to find a way to pay the $1,438.34 in filing fees. He earned the money quickly, he says, by responding to advertisements in the back of Orlando Weekly.

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