Ohio Identified as the Third Most Dangerous State for Homeless People
Over the past eleven years (1999-2009), advocates and shelter workers around the country have received news reports of homeless men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and decapitated. A new report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless documents a rise in hate crimes against homeless people. In Ohio, the number of hate crimes directed towards the homeless population rose to 13 in 2009 making Ohio the third most dangerous state in the union. Currently, the federal government does not recognize the homeless population as a protected group, vulnerable to hate crimes. The report, Hate Crimes Against the Homeless: America’s Growing Tide of Violence, documents all the attacks (just under 120) with 43 incidents resulting in death in 2009.
The FBI classifies a hate crime as “A criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias.” In 2008, there were seven hate crimes in the United States against protected classes that lead to death according to FBI statistics while there were 27 hate crimes against homeless people that lead to deaths according to the NCH research.
In 2009, Ohio officials reported a serial killer targeting vulnerable homeless women and a number of attacks on campsites in Cincinnati. Ohio was identified as the third most dangerous state in the United States, and fourth most dangerous state in the last 11 years.
Perhaps the most widely publicized case in Ohio was that of Anthony Sowell, the alleged serial rapist and killer. According to police and prosecutors, Sowell targeted homeless women in the Cleveland area, and is currently waiting trial on these charges. Sowell is innocent until proven guilty, but police investigations allege that he would lure these women to his home with the promise of drugs or shelter. By the time Sowell was discovered, he had allegedly killed 11 homeless women, six victims in 2009 alone, and their bodies were found inside and around property in which Sowell was living. After his arrest, two survivors came forward stating they had been raped by Sowell.
While cases like Sowell’s receive a great deal of media attention, many of the violent attacks of the homeless receive minimal exposure. In the past ten years, hate crimes against the homeless have occurred in ten of Ohio’s cities. Those attacks consisted of 43 non lethal attacks and 17 fatal attacks.
In 2009, Cincinnati police reported that two separate hate crimes were committed against two homeless gentlemen.
Nationally, states are beginning to recognize the need for homeless people to be added as a protected class because of their vulnerability and fragility. The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2009 is pending federal legislation currently before Congress. The City of Cleveland passed an ordinance in 2008, making repercussions for “intimidation” and harassment more severe if these crimes are perpetrated against an individual because of his/her homeless status. The Ohio legislature has re-introduced a bill (HB 509) to classify intimidation as an offense against homeless people in order to provide some additional protections.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless published in December 2010.