When the police arrived, Poppo was without a forehead, nose, and mouth. A witness described his face as a “blob of blood.” An officer was forced to shoot and kill Eugene to stop his attack. Poppo, who is still recovering from his grave injuries, is the latest victim of a disturbing trend: increasing hate crimes against homeless persons.
Because they are forced to live on the street, homeless persons are highly vulnerable and often dehumanized—becoming part of the scenery instead of valued individuals. David Pirtle, another homeless person who was the victim of a hate crime, claims that people don’t think twice before acting them because they regard the act as no worse than vandalizing a street sign.
Since they began tracking hate crimes in 1999, the National Coalition for the Homeless has reported 1,184 acts of violence against homeless persons. Out of the documented attacks, 312 homeless individuals were killed. In 2010, one in five attacks resulted in death.
Unfortunately, there are only a handful of states that protect homeless persons under their hate crime laws. Moreover, the federal government does not comprehensively catalog instances of hate crimes against homeless persons. There’s a new bill that’s looking to change that, though. The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act would require the federal government to begin tracking such data nationwide.
On Tuesday, Representative Alcee L. Hastings, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, sponsored a congressional briefing on this issue. Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center, noted that criminalizing homelessness creates the sense that people living on the street aren’t fully human. In fact, she went on to say: “We can think of homelessness itself as a form of violence,” she said. “Simply being without a place to live in a country that has the resources, has the capability of housing everybody, is a form of violence in my view.”
Homeless people are human beings and they deserve to be treated as human beings—not stop signs or property. If you want to take action, please contact your representative and tell them to support the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act (H.R. 3528).
– Stephanie Johnston, Development & Communications Intern