[Hpn] Homeless Homeless Abuse

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 19 Nov 2004 09:45:54 -0500

Friday, November 19, 2004

Abuse reports spur hearings on homeless



Amid reports of homeless Mainers being beaten, denied stable housing and
ripped off by store clerks, Maine's attorney general is launching a series
of public sessions to hear from homeless victims of discrimination. The
first hearing will be held Monday in Portland, Attorney General Steven Rowe
said Thursday. Follow-up hearings will be held Dec. 3 in Bangor, Dec. 7 in
Alfred and Dec. 14 in Lewiston.

Rowe's study stems from legislative inquiries last session into whether
Maine needs to amend its human rights or civil rights acts to include
protections from violence and discrimination for people who are homeless or
perceived to be homeless.

One of the lawmakers raising the issue, Rep. Benjamin Dudley, D-Portland,
said Thursday that he was prompted by reports from Preble Street, formerly
known as Preble Street Resource Center, which operates a shelter as part of
its services.

Preble Street's advocacy director, Donna Yellen, says she has seen an
increasing number of cases of violence and discrimination against homeless
people in the past year.
"In the summer of 2003 we started seeing more and more people coming through
our doors . . . with black eyes, broken wrists, with stories of being
assaulted," Yellen said.

"And it seems like the only reason why they were being targeted, harassed
and sometimes assaulted was because they were homeless, because they had a
backpack, because they were walking by themselves in a park at night,
because they were sitting in front of the library on a Sunday night," Yellen

Homeless people who set up camps in some of Portland's wooded areas have
reported that their makeshift living quarters were trashed while they were
gone during the day, Yellen says.
There are also reports of stores raising their prices for goods they sell to
people who are homeless or perceived as such, she says.

Yellen also says some landlords have denied rental units to people who were
using the Preble Street facility after learning through phone references on
applications that the applicants were homeless.
Some homeless people have also lost out on job opportunities after
prospective employers learned that the applicants had no permanent place to

Yellen says she has heard similar anecdotes from shelters in other parts of
the state.
"People who are homeless have nowhere to hide. You and I can go inside our
house and lock the door," Yellen said. "They have nowhere to go."

As part of the state's study, Rowe's office has conducted a statewide survey
of agencies that serve the homeless as well as law enforcement agencies.
Homeless and formerly homeless Mainers who want to relate their own
experiences as part of the study may do so in writing before Dec. 15.
Results are to be reported to the Legislature early next year.
Any public policy action that might result from Rowe's study could clash
with public attitudes that blame homeless people's own failures for their
own plight.

"Increasingly, people believe that homelessness is caused by individual
imperfections and moral failings," says a 1998 report by the National
Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness.
It says mentally ill people and substance abusers "are seen as more
blameworthy and less deserving of compassion than homeless people who are
merely 'down on their luck.' "

Reflecting that pattern, a number of states and cities are enacting
anti-panhandling laws, which themselves may be discriminatory, according to
Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homeless
& Poverty.
A business person taking a nap on a bench won't be arrested, but a homeless
person will, she says.

Copyright  Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.