Attacks on US Homeless Becoming Trend: Report

by Tanya Thomas on Aug 11 2009 3:02 PM

A recent report has found that even as tough economic times push more people onto the streets, there has been a surge in the number of violent, and occasionally deadly attacks against the homeless in the United States. Such attacks are obviously becoming a 'trend'.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) put the number of attacks in 2008 at 106, including 27 deaths, with Florida leading states in the nation at 30 attacks, three among them resulting in deaths. More incidents are thought to have occurred but gone unreported.

The total number of attacks was less than the 160 recorded last year but still far above the 60 listed in 1999.

Although the motive for the violence was often unclear, some attackers said they acted out of "boredom" or for a "thrill" or "fun," according to the report released Friday.

Most of the attacks -- 73 percent -- were committed by individuals who were 25 years old or younger, with the bulk of that group teenagers.

Faced with the onslaught of violence, some states are taking measures. In October, Maryland is set to expand its hate-crimes law to increase for the first time the penalties for attacks against the homeless.

Five states are considering similar measures, while the District of Columbia (Washington) approved such legislation earlier this month. A bill tackling the scourge of violence against the homeless is also under consideration in Congress.

"The bottom line is, people need to be housed," said David Pirtle, a victim of violence and NCH board member. "If the federal government adequately funds permanent affordable housing, fewer people will be on the streets, and fewer men and women will be attacked."

Those most vulnerable to the attacks, NCH said, were the 42 percent of homeless people who are unsheltered.

"Those experiencing homelessness are often ignored or misunderstood by society," said NCH executive director Michael Stoops.

"If these brutal attacks were committed against any other religious or minority group to the same degree, there would be a national outcry and call for governmental action."