By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS-July 17, 2016) — The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) recently released its report “No Safe Street: A Survey of Hate Crimes and Violence Committed Against Homeless People in 2014 & 2015″ It’s alarming, to say the least!
The report says that last year there were 77 documented cases of attacks resulting in 27 deaths. It also notes that the FBI does not currently recognize protected status for people who are homeless.
In 2014 and 2015 combined, there were 199 attacks, 53 of which resulted in death.
Over the past 17 years, NCH has recorded 1,657 crimes committed against this unprotected group. As a result of these attacks, 428 people lost their lives.
While these statistics are troubling on their own, it is quite possible that the number of attacks were much higher as it’s likely that a number go unreported.
However, some recent violent and deadly attacks on the homeless in San Diego have made national news and are horrifying examples of the dangers with which the unhoused homeless have to contend.
Of the five homeless men who were attacked in early July, three have died and two are in critical condition.
According to CNN, San Diego police have now arrested a 39-year-old man in connection with the series of attacks.
Jon David Guerrero was taken into custody Friday. He’s been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and two counts of arson.
“We can all rest a little easier tonight knowing that this predator is off our streets,” San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said at a news conference Saturday.
Zimmerman added, “These evil acts of violence committed by Guerrero were some of the worst that I’ve seen in my 34 years in law enforcement. This killer has targeted some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens while they were sleeping.”
Guerrero had a long history of crime and mental health issues, and was living in subsidized housing for the poor and homeless according to an NBC affiliate.
We asked some of our Joy Junction guests whether they had ever felt unsafe while experiencing homelessness.
One woman said she had been attacked with a knife and thrown down after she finished working a late shift. She said that everything was taken from her, including her purse. Understandably, it traumatized her.
She added, “I still hold that fear today. I am learning to call on the Lord for his protection everyday when I have to go into town. I never know what might happen.”
One man said he spent two years on the streets, and for many nights didn’t sleep for fear of being robbed or assaulted.
“One night I got jumped by two guys just so they could steal my backpack with my last few dollars in it. There are many dangers on the streets here.”
Another guest said that he’s felt unsafe primarily because he didn’t know who he could trust.
He added, “Would I be harmed or not? Who would take my belongings? I also feel unsafe because I don’t know how to defend myself if such a situation ever arose. So far, I’ve never been physically attacked. Thank God! (However), I have been insulted many times for just being homeless.”
One man has experienced difficulties while using the bus. “I’ve been insulted many times. Teenagers always like to mess with me. They taunt me and make fun of me. I probably bring it on myself. I don’t know. To be honest, I’m getting used to it.’
He added, “I don’t have any really nice clothes. I don’t bathe as much as I should. So, you can say that I’m the perfect kind of homeless person. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t change my ways. I try to be nice to others by keeping to myself.’
Somewhat poignantly he concluded, “I feel unsafe, but that’s life for the homeless.”
Another man has also had a bad experience using public transportation.
He said, “I know that whenever I get on the bus, I’m going to hear insults and comments about the homeless. I’m tired of the prejudice. Many homeless people can’t help being without a home. The just don’t know the whole story.”
A woman told us that after being released from the hospital and waiting for a ride to Joy Junction, some healthcare workers gave her a hard time.
“They made comments about me possibly being crazy and that I had no place to go … One comment was that I deserved what I had coming to me.’
The woman added, “She didn’t even know my situation. I go places, and people stare and make rude comments like I have the plague.”
One woman said being homeless has not caused her or her family to feel unsafe. They’ve never been insulted or physically attacked.
However, she added, ‘We have at times felt unsafe around other homeless people, especially for my children.”
Another woman said she has never felt unsafe because she knows her husband would “protect me at all cost.”
She reflected, “But I still felt unsure and worried – a little scared … We are thankful for Joy Junction.”
Another guy told us that when he arrived in Albuquerque, he was just coming out of ten years in prison. However, his situation was a little different.
He said his first night on the streets he got into a fight because of being insulted.
He added, “Anger took me over that night. So, I’ve never been attacked, but I’ve attacked because of being insulted. I’ve never felt safe on the streets; probably never will.”
So how bad is the situation? As NCH says in its report, “Hate crimes against the homeless community are a vital issue in need of public attention.”
Photo captions: 1) Young thug about to beat a homeless man with a baseball bat. 2) An attacker mercilessly attacks a homeless man in Venice Beach, California, with a folding chair. 3) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
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