[Hpn] Crimes Against Homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 14 Feb 2005 08:27:19 -0500

Monday, February 14, 2005


Crimes against homeless deserve public scrutiny

The hardship of life on the streets for Maine's homeless is compounded by
the very real danger of violence, a problem that has attracted little public
attention and even less action.
A new report from the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence calls for
state and local efforts to counteract this disturbing trend.
The center interviewed 138 homeless and formerly homeless people as well as
30 officials including shelter staff, police and providers of social
services starting in July 2003. It found at least 60 crimes that appeared to
be motivated by the victim's state of homelessness, including 35 physical
attacks. Some of those attacks were particularly brutal, involving objects
such as rocks and pipes.
Few of these crimes make it to a police report. There's a general distrust
of police by homeless people, and that's a difficult issue to resolve.
Police have a responsibility to arrest homeless people who are breaking the
law, but that inadvertently serves as a deterrent to report victimization.
Stephen Wessler, the director of the center, said that many homeless people
who have suffered violence lack outrage because attacks are so common.
That says a great deal about the lack of attention and public indignation
concerning these crimes.
The center is calling on lawmakers to protect homeless people under the
state Civil Rights Act. That could prove controversial. In the meantime,
however, there are other steps that can and should be taken to help fight
violence against people who are living on the streets.
Though some violence occurs between homeless people, many of the incidents
involve teenagers attackers. Boosting educational programs in middle and
high schools is one of the center's ideas, and it's a great one because it
has a value that stretches beyond preventing violence. Schools and service
providers could work together to bring in speakers or have students tour
shelters to increase understanding, for instance.
The Portland Police Department and local shelters already work together, and
this partnership can be expanded. They can talk about the report's other
recommendations, including training programs that teach homeless people to
report crimes and mandatory training for police officers on homelessness.
The best way to help counteract crimes against the homeless is to increase
the number of reports on such attacks. This is a serious and potentially
deadly issue that demands the immediate attention of officials and the
public. Understanding that it's a real problem is the first step.

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