The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) released a report Aug. 7 revealing a dramatic nationwide rise in unprovoked assaults against the homeless at the hands of non-homeless people since 1999. The NCH report, which documents at least 880 unprovoked attacks, including 244 fatalities over the last decade, has prompted Congress and several state legislators to propose legislation to treat assaults on the homeless as hate crimes and impose stiffer penalties for offenders.
A rise in the number of homeless people, experts say, is part of what is fueling the increase in attacks.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the assailants are most often men outside the homeless community, particularly teenage boys. The 42 percent of homeless people who are unsheltered are the most vulnerable to these attacks, says NCH executive director Michael Stoops, and because crimes committed against homeless persons often go unreported, the actual numbers of non-lethal attacks may be much higher.
While the motive for an attack is often unclear, some of the attackers said they committed the crime out of "boredom," or for a "thrill" or "fun." The latest report showed 58 percent of assailants implicated in attacks against the homeless in the last 10 years were teenagers.
Proposals to add penalties for attacks on the homeless are under consideration in California, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas as well as Maryland and the District of Columbia. For full details on the report visit www.nationalhomeless.org.
"The bottom line is, people need to be housed," said David Pirtle, a victim of violence and NCH board member, in a press release. "If the federal government adequately funds permanent affordable housing, fewer people will be on the streets, and fewer men and women will be attacked."