National News: Rise in Violence Against Homeless in America

Baton Rouge Horse Patrols Chasing Homeless

Baton Rouge, LA   Due to Hurricane Katrina, the homeless population has grown.  Reinstated police on horseback will soon be dealing with the growing problem of panhandling by the homeless near downtown Baton Rouge.  The mounted patrols also could be used at festivals and the college football games. The horses will be specifically trained for police duty, and will provide police with access to areas that neither police cruisers or bicycles can reach. One of the duties of the police includes helping to control panhandling and other activities associated with the homeless.

Katrina Evacuees Face Eviction

   Hundreds of hurricane evacuees around the country could be evicted in the coming weeks because FEMA has stopped helping them pay rent.  FEMA paid the rent for about 58,000 households as part of a special emergency program in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than 12,600 households nationwide found out in April that they were going to lose their rent subsidies. Most were cut off May 31 and must make a payment on their own or get out. The cutoff affects 3,900 evacuees’ households in Houston and 1,100 in Dallas. In the Memphis area 300 to 500 evacuees are facing eviction.

Handicapped Homeless Man Set on Fire, Critically Hurt

Spokane, WA    A homeless, wheelchair-bound man in Spokane, Washington was set on fire in downtown Spokane and suffered extensive burns. He was flown to Seattle’s Harbor view Medical Center, the region’s trauma and burn center.  Police are not releasing the name, of the man, citing privacy laws. The victim, who has only one leg, was well known to police officers who patrolled downtown. Two men were later questioned by crime detectives and their statements led detectives to believe the pair was involved in the crime. The two were subsequently arrested and booked for investigation in the robbery.

Fresno Homeless Attacked and Insulted by City Workers

Fresno, CA     An article posted on indybay.org opens with a Fresno police officer joking that Fresno’s homeless people have their own maid service. A letter handed out by the Fresno Police Department gave notice of an impending “clean up” starting at 8:00am. At 7:50 am the destruction of property was underway. One homeless woman lost everything she owned because she was a few minutes late, including irreplaceable paper work.

   Once the crew had made its way through the Caltrans property on E street, they swung around and headed down the opposite side of the street.  This caught many homeless people completely off-guard.  Previously, homeless people had been able to save their possessions by moving them to the other side of the street while the city drove through with a bulldozer.  They would wait until the “clean up crew” was gone, and rebuild their encampment afterward.  The police did not forcefully remove people to destroy their possessions, but anything unguarded was destroyed. 

   One homeless man was hit by an officer when he tried to untie his tent from a fence to save it.  According to the article, the officer was not in uniform at the time, but forced the man to watch as a bulldozer put his tent into a garbage truck.  The man, a diabetic, reportedly lost everything he owned, including his medicine.

   After their unusual run on E street, the crew headed for Santa Clara street.  Many homeless people use the services at Poverello House, which is on Santa Clara street.  Homeless people often move their possessions to Santa Clara during the sweeps, and were not guarding them at the time the crew swept up everything in front of Poverello House.   As word of the destruction spread, the owners came running out of the House and tried to stop the workers.  Those who made it out in time were able to save their possessions.

Kalamazoo Homeless Often Target of Summer Beatings

Kalamazoo, MI   According to a report from Kalamazoo’s News 3, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety plans to continue posing undercover officers in an attempt to catch those who have been assaulting homeless people in downtown Kalamazoo.

   Plainclothes officers are just one tool in fighting the violence, according to the report.  Also planned are single officer patrols and group patrols.

   Police have noted that attacks on homeless people increase during the summer months when children are out of school. 

Homeless Woman Found Beaten in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa, CA     A homeless woman remains in the intensive care unit of a local hospital after she was found beaten in the face and head with a chunk of concrete near a Santa Rosa homeless encampment.

   According to the wire report, 28-year-old Christina Ann Phifer was found by her boyfriend near the Dutton Avenue Bridge.  The boyfriend is not currently a suspect.

   The woman claimed she fell and has not been cooperative.  The police took the concrete into evidence, and are investigating whether the woman was assaulted. 

Brandenton Police Officer Fired for Ignoring Attack on Homeless Man

Brandenton, FL  A homeless man, cut up and soaking wet, trudged into a convenience store looking for help.  He told the clerk that a group of teenagers had pelted him with rocks and shoved him into a creek.

   The Brandenton police officer who responded, Joshua Betts, didn’t take the man’s account seriously, and it has now cost him his job.  According to the article in the Herald Tribune, Betts didn’t immediately write up a report, and utterly failed to investigate the crime scene. 

   Betts claimed he looked for the teens after he left the store, but he signed out for his dinner break 1 minute into his search, according to the article.

   The attack on the homeless man happened just weeks after two teenagers in Broward County were arrested on murder charges in the beating death of another homeless man.

   In this incident, Betts drove to the 7Eleven shortly after midnight to investigate the man’s claims that the man had been attacked.

   The victim reportedly walked into the store with his left hand wrapped in his shirt and was soaking wet, said police quoted in the article who had watched the store’s surveillance tape.  The clerk called 911 immediately, and the victim explained his situation over the phone.

   The kids had thrown rocks at the man after tauning him from atop a parking garage.  They later followed him and threatened him, before pushing him into a creek.  Within 10 minutes of the incident, Officer Betts arrived on the scene. 

   According to the article, Betts responded sarcastically to the man’s claims and asked him how much he had been drinking.  The 7-Eleven clerk filed a complaint against Betts the next day. 

   Betts claimed that he doubted the man had been attacked, and eventually drafted a report of the incident, reportedly labelling it a “suspicious circumstance.”  Police said in the article that they do not doubt the man’s claims that he was attacked.

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton Draws Fire for Homeless Curfew

Jackson, MS.  Mayor Frank Melton was elected last July with 88% of the vote based on a tough-on-crime platform.  But his tactics have been drawing fire of late, according to AP wire reports.

   Melton had declared a month long state of emergency in Jackson and tightened an earlier curfew on teenagers, but then expanded the curfew to include homeless people.  During this state of emergency, at least 19 homeless people were forcibly taken to a city-run gymnasium after 10pm.

   Critics have expressed concerns that Melton’s gung-ho style has gone a bit too far, perhaps even into illegality, and the National Coalition for the Homeless compared Melton’s forced curfew to Japanese internment camps during World War II.

   The Mayor has created considerable controversy of late, as he has refused to stop carrying his gun, even on airplanes, taken crime-witnesses and at-risk individuals into his home, donned police gear to combat crime at night, and overridden his police chief’s decision to fire officers involved in beating a handcuffed suspect.             

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 77 August 2006