Leon Vega, Jr., 42 and homeless, voted for the first time on Election Day. “I feel very American,” said Vega after leaving the voting booth. “I never voted before because I thought it would never make much of a difference. They always say your vote counts. Now I’m just finding out if that’s true.”

Vega lost his apartment three months ago after getting into what he described as “dire straits.” He now lives at the Bowery Mission, a shelter for homeless men on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His excitement over Barack Obama’s candidacy and his disappointment with the Republican Party led him to register for the first time last month.

Vega is one of some 20,000 voting-age adults in New York City’s shelters, said Lindsey Davis, a community organizer for the Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless citizens are eligible to vote, but many run into challenges while registering –chief among them the lack of a permanent address, said Davis. Another factor is a lack of knowledge about the registration process and deadlines.

“Homeless people often are happy to be registered,” she said. “The barrier isn’t people not being interested in voting.”

Many homeless people list the street where they sleep as their permanent address. Others use shelters, drop-centers, or social service offices to receive voter information. Vega is one of more than 30 Mission residents who registered to vote.

Another of those, Anthony Kravit, also voted Tuesday. Sixteen months ago, Kravit lived and worked in New Jersey. “I lost my job, I lost my apartment,” said Kravit, 36. “The last eight years Bush has been in here, it’s like they drained the middle class away.”