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Violent hate crimes against homeless increase around nation

POSTED September 18, 2010 12:07 a.m.

No shelter. No food. And no place to go for safety has made it difficult for homeless people to avoid being judged, picked on and rained on during the winter months. But now homeless people have to worry about being a victim of hate crimes.

Acts of violent hate crimes against homeless people around the country are now on the rise including homicides within the homeless population due to violent acts, according to a report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The Hate Crimes against the Homeless: America’s Growing Tide of Violence 2009 report found that 2009 was the deadliest year for attacks on homeless people in the past 10 years with 43 known deaths making it the second highest since the NCH began tracking violence in 1999.

“It’s awful,” said Maris Sturtevant, chief operations officer of the United Samaritans Foundation in Turlock. “We have to try to have a shelter available for them. It is not very safe to be out there at night.”

Sturtevant recalls about four years ago she would see homeless people fall victim to paintball shootings, things being thrown at them and people tearing up the places where the homeless people were staying, she said. But lately, she hasn’t heard of any incidents in the Turlock area.

 “We show no increases in crime reported against them (the homeless of Turlock),” said Turlock Police Sgt. Nino Amirfar.

The Turlock Police Department keeps an active record of acts against the homeless to track their safety and since January, there have been no recorded incidents against the homeless, he said.

While the homeless population in Turlock is relatively safe, the rest of the nation is seeing a dramatic increase in violent acts against the homeless.

Some violent acts reported include homeless people being doused with gasoline and set aflame, rape in exchange for shelter, spray painting and stomping upon while sleeping and repeated incidences of gang initiations involving stabbings and beatings, according to the report.

In the past 10 years alone, there have been 1,074 reported acts of bias motivated violence against homeless individuals, 291 deaths among homeless people as a result of attacks, and reported violence has occurred in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

According to the report, the main perpetrators seem to be young men and teenage boys. Some of the attacks have even been committed by boys as young as 10 years old. About 80 percent of the perpetrators were people under 30 years of age with 98 percent of them being men. And of those attacks, one in three ended in death.

For 2009, the most common age of homeless person that was attacked was around 45 years old. The most common victim in the past 10 years was a middle-aged homeless man with 70 percent of the victims ranging between the ages of 40 and 60.

Sturtevant said the only way to protect the homeless is to move them off of the streets and out of the elements so they will be safer.

So far this year, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program has helped move 14 homeless men from the We Care program off of the streets, she said.

While there is legislation in the works to help protect the homeless and classify the “homeless status” as a protected class, the way to pro-actively protect them is moving them into shelter, Sturtevant said.

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