Violent Crimes Against Homeless People on the Rise

Special Submission from the National Coalition for the Homeless

 Washington, DC – Reported incidents of attacks against homeless men and women have reached their highest level in years, according to a study by the National Coalition for the Homeless. NCH’s report, Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness 2006, details the 142 violent crimes, against homeless individuals in the past year, the highest number of incidents since NCH’s annual study began in 1999. Attacks have increased 65% from last year, and over 170% since five years ago. This year’s attacks, which include beatings, stabbings, burnings, and rape resulted in 20 fatalities.

    Even more disturbing than the violence of these attacks are the identities of the attackers and their motives. In a significant number of cases, the crimes were committed by teenagers and young adults, for no apparent reason other than boredom.

    This March in Orlando, FL, August Felix, age 54, was beaten to death by five teenagers. The youths, all between the ages of 13 and 16, attacked Felix and others “for sport,” according to local police. Later that same month, 21-year-old Braymond Harris of Detroit was shot and killed by a 15-year-old boy. In the words of one Detroit police officer, the boy and his friends “just wanted to beat up a bum.”

   “It is NCH’s position that many of these acts should be considered hate crimes” said Michael Stoops, Executive Director of NCH. “Crimes against homeless people are motivated by the same intolerance as hate crimes against people of a certain religious, racial, or ethnic background.”

    Currently, federal law does not list housing status as potential motivation for a hate crime, though NCH and others are gaining ground in their battle to add homelessness to new hate crimes legislation. Such bills have been introduced into five state legislatures: California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Texas.

    The full report can be viewed online at http://nationalhomeless.org/getinvolved/projects/hatecrimes/index.html.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007