[Hpn] Street life a dangerous existence;Galveston County Daily News;7/1/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Sun, 01 Jul 2001 19:31:17 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Sunday, July 1, 2001
Galveston County Daily News <http://galvestondailynews.com>
[Galveston, Texas]

Homeless and helpless
Ricky White was attacked and badly beaten in the alley behind the 2800 block 
of Broadway a few weeks ago.

News section
Street life a dangerous existence

By Carter Thompson <Carter.Thompson@galvnews.com>
The Daily News

Published July 01, 2001

GALVESTON — It’s 8 a.m., on a Saturday in June. Torrential rains have 
flooded the city.

Dr. F.M. Zaunbrecher and his wife, Michelle, pull into the parking lot of an 
East End church in their minivan packed with medical supplies to treat the 
bumps, bruises and infections of Galveston’s homeless population.

Over the next hour, the Zaunbrechers — founders of the Luke Society, a 
medical ministry — treat about 40 people over the din of hymns and sermons 
fervently delivered by volunteers from a local Baptist church. The 
soft-spoken F.M. Zaunbrecher, the ministry’s medical director, has to strain 
to hear and be heard by the people he is treating.

Standing a few spots back in line is Joe, a homeless man in his mid-50s who 
provided only his first name.

Joe’s got a black eye and his blood tints the whites of his eye. He says a 
group of young men who tried to rob him outside a burger joint a week 
earlier had knocked him to the ground with a blow to the back of his head 
and kicked him in the face.

Zaunbrecher examines Joe and gives him some pain relievers. Joe grabs a cup 
of coffee and talks to some friends before disappearing back into the rainy 

Joe’s story is a common one, say social workers and homeless advocates, made 
all the more senseless because the predators had to have known their victim 
had, at most, a few bucks in his pockets.

They say the problem is getting worse. Island police say it’s not. There’s 
also a lack on consensus over who is committing these crimes — other 
homeless people or punks, gangs or even teen-agers looking to take out 
aggression on an easy target.

All the disagreement is understandable given that homeless people — for 
reasons including mental illness, fear of retaliation or criminal pasts of 
their own — are notorious for not reporting crimes against them.

Prosecution of those that are reported can be difficult. Without addresses 
and phone numbers, victims and witnesses can disappear into the gray just 
like Joe.


The muggings, murders and rapes on the streets across the country have 
prompted advocates to lobby lawmakers to add the homeless to the minority 
groups protected under federal hate crimes law.

The people in Galveston who help the homeless talk of another frightening 
trend on the streets.

Many of the victims share some common traits, said Ted Hanley. As executive 
director of the Jesse Tree, a hub for social services in the county, Hanley 
is as familiar with Galveston’s homeless population as anyone.

Many victims are passive and retreating, not prone to aggressive 
panhandling, drug use or even extraneous human contact, said Hanley.
Some suffer from mental illnesses, others have learning disabilities — and 
are more vulnerable because of them.

Ricky White, who has lived on the streets on and off for the last 15 years, 
became a victim last month for the first time.

White said several teen-agers stalked him as he walked down an alley near 
28th Street and Broadway. He noticed them just before they pounced and hit 
him in the back of the head with a hard object.

“They didn’t get to take nothing because I didn’t have nothing,” he said. “I 
had change, but I guess it wasn’t worth taking.”

White, 45, said he woke up about 15 minutes later and walked to the 
University of Texas Medical Branch. Doctors eventually had to perform 
surgery to remove a blood clot from inside his skull.

“The level of cruelty in beating someone like this is pretty scary,” said 

The case is out of the ordinary in that there is a report on file with the 
Galveston Police Department because UTMB staff summoned police to the 
emergency room when White stumbled in.

Other crimes go unreported. Hanley said a homeless man he had never seen 
showed up at one of medical musters in early June. The man claimed to have 
been attacked just as White had and was bleeding from his ears — a possible 
sign of a serious head injury — and also was sent to UTMB.

Police have no report on the assault. Hanley doesn’t know what happened to 
the man. He hasn’t seen him since.

Days earlier, an amputee leaving the hospital also was ambushed on 
Harborside Drive. The 39-year-old Mexican national was not injured in the 
mugging and the two assailants have not been caught.

Police said they do not believe there is one person or group committing 
these offenses.

Police Chief Robert Pierce said an ambush from the rear was a preferred 
tactic because it increased an attacker’s chance of success and diminished 
his or her risk of being injured in the process.


The reasons offered as to why homeless people don’t report crimes are as 
varied as the ills that put people on the street in the first place.

There’s mental illness, disorders and substance abuse that make many 
homeless victims unable to communicate with police or unwilling to entangle 
themselves in a system they fear will not deliver justice, say social 

Pierce offered other possibilities.

They may have perceived frustration from police officers who tried to get 
their addresses or phone numbers when they reported a previous crime. The 
victims may avoid police because they have warrants for their own arrest.

The occasional assault for many is part of survival-of-the-fittest rules of 
the street, where the victims will have to wander unprotected after they 
file reports, say police and advocates.

White and Joe don’t talk about police investigations. They just don’t seem 
to give their assaults the concern that most people would show if their car 
had been burglarized.

“If you don’t have that high opinion of yourself, maybe it’s not a big deal, 
it’s just the way life is,” said Pierce.


The reporting shortcomings that make regular assaults against the homeless 
difficult to track — if broad reporting trends hold true — render the number 
of sexual assaults a downright mystery.

What’s absent in police reports and courtrooms can be found in abundance in 
anecdotes told by social workers and street ministries.

“From what I understand from women, it is the No. 1 crime,” said Richard 
Troxell, an Austin advocate for the homeless.

Troxell is president of House the Homeless, director of Legal Aid for the 
Homeless and a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition 
for the Homeless. He also leads Universal Living Wage, a campaign to raise 
the minimum wage to a level that anyone working 40 hours a week could afford 
a place to live.

It was common for homeless women to seek the protection of a man, providing 
sexual favors in return, said Troxell. It’s a survival tactic that he argued 
was still sexual assault.

Estimates for sexual assault reporting rates among the general public vary 
from source to source. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated 
that in 2000 only one out of every two victims reported the crime. The 
Women’s Crisis Center of Galveston County believes only one out of 10 sexual 
assaults are reported to the authorities.

For victims who are homeless, the statistic must be lower, said Linda 
Telfah, client services coordinator for the center.

“We probably don’t know the magnitude of the problem,” she said.

Telfah related the story of a homeless woman who recently passed through the 
center’s shelter after trying to escape an abusive partner. As the woman was 
leaving, a shelter worker asked whether she wanted to take a basket of food.

The woman instead asked for Vasoline to reduce the physical pain of future 
sexual assaults. That scene — at the shelter’s exit — was the first time the 
woman revealed she had been raped on the streets, said Telfah.

“It’s like they understand it’s something that’s going to happen,” she said.

Victims of sexually assault do show up in the line of injured that the 
Zaunbrecher’s treat each Saturday morning, they say. Some explain their 
injuries; others will not.

“They live on the street so they are prey to any predator,” said Dr. 
Zaunbrecher. “They’re street wise and know how to fight but they get pretty 
beaten up when the sun goes down.”


Locally at least, police and social workers agree that it’s more common for 
the homeless to fall prey to other homeless than to those higher up the 
socio-economic ladder.

Wolves run with the lambs among a local homeless population estimated at 

Hanley and the Zaunbrechers say they know they have clients who are violent 

The national advocates, including Troxell, say a more disturbing trend has 
developed over the past two years. Increasingly, the homeless are targets of 
gang initiations, young punk aggression and violence at the hands of college 
students and even police, he said.

The Washington, D.C.-based homeless coalition for the past two years has 
compiled reports of violence against the homeless by people not living on 
the streets. Included in the 92 homeless deaths are shootings by police, 
beatings administered by gang members and victims being set on fire.

The study is part of a case the coalition is making to the U.S. Department 
of Justice to undertake its own study.

The federal study, advocates contend, would reveal a trend of violence 
against the homeless large enough to warrant additional punishment now meted 
out for crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion or sexual 
orientation. The Justice Department’s findings would bring additional 
credibility to the effort to amend federal hate crimes legislation, 
coalition officials say.

The crimes are on the rise at the same time cities are enacting ordinances 
against camping and resting on sidewalks aimed driving the homeless away or 
giving police the means to arrest them, said Troxell.

“What causes these crimes is tone setting,” he said. “We have a rash of 
ordinances leveled against minimum-wage workers who become homeless that 
criminalizes their condition and makes their condition illegal.

They’re characterized not even as second-class citizens. It is much the way 
Hitler did it in the World War II era.”

Galveston City Council earlier this year had considered an ordinance 
outlawing panhandling. The proposal lost steam.


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Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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