Violence against homeless people has been increasing recently, according to a new report.
Earlier this year, a survey of 250 homeless people living in South Florida conducted by the Task Force For Ending Homelessness found that more than 4 in 10 women (44 percent) and 3 in 10 men (34 percent) have been victims of violent attacks since living on the streets. “I have heard more reports of assaults in the last six months than I ever have,” the group’s CEO, Lorraine Wilby, told the Orlando Sentinel, noting that most were not random acts of violence, but robberies of what small possessions people carried with them.
But even those numbers likely lowball reality, because many homeless people don’t divulge the attacks. Often times, “we don’t hear about attacks because people are afraid of retaliation,” said Lilly Gallardo, director of social services at the Salvation Army.
A cursory glance at crime news shows just how dangerous living on the streets is. Mark Lufkin, 39, died in April after he was attacked at a homeless campsite in Concord. A homeless man whose name wasn’t released, 40, was stabbed multiple times by a passer-by in Hampton Bays last month. Robert Kuntz, 61, was killed in August as well after being beaten to death by a man using a table leg. Two California men are behind bars after attacking a homeless man at 4 a.m. one morning in June with rocks, punches, and kicks as he slept on the streets. And the list goes on.
The reasons that homelessness is extraordinarily dangerous are as obvious as they are many. Sleeping in tucked away, outdoor areas leaves homeless people vulnerable to attackers. They generally have most, if not all, their possessions right there with them. They are on the streets late at night when few pedestrians are around. Even among those sleeping in a shelter, violence still often pervades between guests. And many in society blame homeless people for their socioeconomic status, affording them less dignity as a person than they do with those who are better off.
As a result of the increased violence, advocacy groups in the South Florida area are trying to fight back. The Task Force For Ending Homelessness is organizing a push to talk with homeless people about how best to improve safety on the streets. Another town, Davis, CA, is considering giving homeless people lockers to store their belongings, which would not only potentially help with safety, but could also help homeless people when they go to job interviews or to work.