Hate crimes against homeless people rose significantly in 2013, jumping nearly one-quarter over 2012 statistics, according to a new report from the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The report identified 109 violent attacks committed against homeless people by non-homeless assailants last year, 18 of which were lethal. “These crimes are believed to have been motivated by the perpetrators’ biases against homeless individuals or by their ability to target homeless people with relative ease,” NCH writes. By comparison, there were 88 attacks in all in 2012, including 18 deaths.
Last year’s victims included Carl Simon, a 50-year-old homeless man living in Las Vegas, who was killed because he couldn’t enjoy the safety that a permanent home affords. On August 12th, Simon was beaten, stabbed, and tortured by three middle-aged men. According to the report, “‘When he still wouldn’t die’ they stuffed him in his suitcase and then put the suitcase in a bathtub.” Another homeless man in Nashville narrowly escaped harm when two attackers poured gasoline on a tent he occupied and lit it on fire. In November, a 28-year-old man stomped on the head of a homeless woman seven times as she slept because he “was annoyed by the scent in the area.”
California and Florida reported the greatest number of attacks in 2013, accounting for close to half of all anti-homeless hate crimes. Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told ThinkProgress that this is due to a variety of factors. “We find that there is more animus toward the homeless in the tourist/sunshine states, resulting in the passage of laws criminalizing homelessness,” he said. But, Stoops noted, it’s also the case that these two states track violence against homeless people better than somewhere like New York, which despite a massive homeless population only reported one such attack in 2013.
Over the past 15 years, NCH found 1,437 violent hate crimes in total were committed against homeless people, including 375 victims who were murdered. Perpetrators tended to be males under 30 years old, with victims generally middle-aged men.
The FBI does not currently recognize homelessness as a protected class when determining hate crime statistics. If it did, it would find that more violent hate crimes are committed against homeless people than any other groups. For instance, the FBI found four hate crime murders in 2011, one of which was racially motivated and the other three were in response to the victims’ sexual orientation. Meanwhile, 32 homeless people across the nation were attacked and killed that year.
NCH’s main recommendation is to change federal law and add homelessness as a protected class under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990. Last year, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced legislation to do so. The bill currently has 20 co-sponsors in the House, but has not been acted on since being introduced in April 2013. Some states, such as Florida, have passed similar legislation.