Hate Crimes Against The Homeless

Posted: August 10, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Goals, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Politics

On Saturday, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) made pubic its latest report: Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA 2008.

In a press release, the NCH highlighted some of the findings in the report.

News media across the nation picked up on the NCH press release, with some of them running headlines stating the Florida ranked first in the number of hate crimes perpetrated against the homeless during 2008.  

According to the NCH press release, some of the key findings were:

  • The total number of attacks for 2008: 106.
  • The number of fatal attacks is the second highest since 2001: 27 deaths.
  • 73 percent of the attacks were committed by individuals who were ages 25 and younger.
  • Florida ranked #1 for the fourth year in a row for most attacks, California was second.

In a news article about the NCH report, The Miami Herald used as its headline: Attacks on homeless becoming trend in Florida, report shows.

The article pointed out that,

"… most assaults are committed by teens and young adults and the homeless are often singled out for attacks because of prejudice. The researchers said the homeless are one of the nation’s most victimized groups, but often, attacks go unreported."

Sadly, as of late, it seems that the media has been reporting violent attacks against the homeless with greater frequency.

These reports have not gone unnoticed. As a result, human rights advocates are pressing legislators to create laws to deter and prevent acts of violence from being committed against the homeless.

Thankfully, some legislators have taken to heart what advocates are saying.

Currently, there are a handful of states which are debating enacting legislation which would categorize violence aimed against the homeless as a "hate crime." In addition, legislation has also been recently introduced in Congress which, if passed, would nationally elevate violent attacks against the homeless to "hate crime" status.

This past May, Maryland became the first state in the nation to provide hate crime protection to homeless persons. The new law will take effect beginning October 1st.

I genuinely applaud Maryland’s law makers for having passed the bill. However, it was a long time in coming.

According to an MSNBC report, Maryland State Senator Alex Mooney had "… introduced the bill four years running before it was finally approved."

Hopefully, other states – and the U.S. Congress – will act swiftly to follow suit and pass similar laws.

Still, even the passage of legislation to protect the homeless under some form of hate crime law is not, in and of itself, the best solution since it can only be applied "after the fact."

In an entirely separate report on homelessness, Professor Brian Levin, from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino stated,

"A clear and alarming pattern has emerged that shows the homeless population faces an additional risk of extreme violence."

On any given night of the year, a substantial number of homeless go unsheltered. Consequently, they remain at risk of having acts of violence inflected upon them.

I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers when it comes to addressing homelessness in our nation. But, I do know that the best way of avoiding being hit by a speeding train is to not be standing on the tracks when it passes.

Subsequently, it seems to me that the most optimum way of preventing acts of violence against the homeless is the passage of legislation which obligates government to implement – and fund – programs which help the homeless become permanently housed.

Or does that make too much sense?

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