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NEWS

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


“I was a human guinea pig,” he says. “I found an ad in the back of the Weekly and signed up for drug testing for Hepatitis C. I collected $1,100, and as soon as I could, I put it toward my campaign.”

In November 2011, Shawen brought his money and what documents he could gather to City Clerk Alana Brenner.

“I received letters from homeless organizations, from the Homeless Services Network to legal advocacy groups, stating that I was a resident,” Shawen says. “When I shared these documents, I was told they weren’t good enough.”

Brenner says that to qualify to run for office, “one must be a resident for one year and a registered voter.” According to city code, “satisfactory proof” of residency would include a lease or mortgage document, utility bills that showed enough utility usage to prove residency and a Florida driver’s license registration. The code also says that candidates can submit “any other documentation that shows their intention to be a bona fide resident at their qualifying address.”

“He was a registered voter, but he couldn’t get the proper documentation for residency,” Brenner says. He could have tried to obtain further documentation, she adds, but he pulled out of the race.

“He was the best candidate that ever came in,” she says. “He knew all the codes. He came in and told me he wasn’t going to run. His situation is unique.”

One of the letters Shawen brought to support his residency claim was from Jacqueline Dowd, a former attorney for Food Not Bombs, which organizes food sharings for the homeless in downtown Orlando. Dowd now works for the Homeless Services Network and IDignity, which helps provide identification for the poor and homeless. She says she has known Shawen for the past five years, and he has worked with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, a program that helps educate the public about homelessness issues.

Dowd says she is considering representing Shawen in a suit against the city through the nonprofit social-justice law firm Legal Advocacy at Work.

“We need to clarify the definition of bona fide residency,” she says. “He laid his bed down in the streets of Orlando. Just because he doesn’t have a roof over his head, does that mean he is not a person accepted in society?”

She says the issue goes deeper than the simple matter of Shawen’s paperwork.

“It is reminiscent of the colonial days, where you had to own property to vote,” Dowd says. “This issue of residency is important because homeless people are a part of our community, they should have a voice.”

If Shawen had been elected, he would certainly have been that voice. He says that he would have pushed to have the city’s controversial feeding ordinance, which makes it illegal to serve food to groups of people within a certain radius of City Hall, to a citywide vote. The ordinance has been used to prevent Food Not Bombs from holding its food sharings at Lake Eola Park. “Let the people decide on whether or not that should be allowed,” Shawen says.

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