California Bill Would Help Protect Homeless People from Hate Crimes

June 9, 2011

The National Coalition for the Homeless firmly believes in protecting homeless people against hate crimes committed by housed persons simply because of the victim’s real or perceived homelessness. Through legislation, the state of California has been working to pass important legislation in order to advance this effort. Assembly Bill 312, introduced by State Representative Bonnie Lowenthal (D-54), is being considered by the State Legislature, and just two days ago it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would specify that crimes against the homeless rendered because of the person’s real or perceived homeless status would be considered a crime discriminatory in nature so victims would have the ability to sue in civil court for increased reparations. In short, the bill would add homelessness as a characteristic to the Ralph Civil Rights Act, which now protects from hate crimes those targeted for factors such as race, sexual orientation, and political affiliation, but not housing situation.

History

AB 2706, introduced last year by Bonnie Lowenthal, was a very similar law, which last year the California Assembly and Senate passed, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. He stated, “Poverty unlike race, gender, national origin and disability, is not a suspect classification” (see Senate Judiciary Committee bill analysis below). However, under California law, political affiliation was already protected on the same level as race, religion… in the Ralph Civil Rights Act. Political affiliation, like homelessness, tends not to be an inherent characteristic like race or religion, so homelessness should be a protected status as well.

One of the reasons the homeless should have further protection is because of the demonstrated necessity to it. Prior to AB 2706, California in 2001 passed SR 18 which required an examination of hate crimes against the homeless. The results of it, along with our report of “Hate Crimes Against the Homeless,” pointed to many ruthless hate crimes against the homeless. Because of this, along with Democratic Governor Brown in power, it seems more hopeful for the bill to be ratified this year.

Process

In order for the bill to go into effect, it must pass through all of the various levels in the California State Assembly and Senate. The bill has already passed through the Assembly, and two days ago the bill passed, by a 3-2 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee referred the bill back to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it now awaits passage. If this happens, the bill must then pass the Senate floor and Assembly floor in order to go to Governor Brown. Last year, AB 2706 passed the Senate with a 21-13 vote and a 51-26 vote in the Assembly.

Effect 

The bill, if passed, would not only help to increase reparations for homeless people who are attacked, but it would also serve as a deterrent to those housed individuals committing the crimes. Though some debate exists over whether violence against the homeless should be put on the same plane as violence against homosexuals or people of a certain race, we believe that crimes against the homeless, committed because they are homeless, deserve to be treated more seriously than crimes without aggravating circumstances.

Take Action

Read the bill and follow its status.

Read the Senate Judiciary Committee bill analysis from June 7, 2011.

Contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the bill.

Laura Epstein, Staff

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2 Responses to California Bill Would Help Protect Homeless People from Hate Crimes

  1. Sage says:

    I have been homeless in California for 15 years; Sacramento, Hollywood, San Francisco, and San Jose. I was always looked upon as scum on the sidewalk. I was hated because I lived in poverty. I hitchhiked all the way to Boston, MA. So I can get off the streets. I will love to see the homelessness population get the help and protection they need in California. Then they wouldn’t have to take the risks I took.

  2. Serena Wagner says:

    I currently live in a family homeless shelter for the first time in my life, lost my home to the bank, who made new payment arrangements and then still sold the home at auction, even after on time payments for one year.

    At first, we, my 3 yr old & I, stayed at the new SJ Family Supportive Housing, one of their first to stay in the new facility. It was like being in jail. It was unsupportive, inhumane, and discriminatory. Today I meet with them after complaining. I felt someone in a better emotional state needed to stick up for the inhumane treatment. I’d be happy to share my experiences, and seek help to change this place for future recipients. Some of their rules included not being allowed to stay in the room during the day when ill, including children, only allowing one bottle of water in the room, a point system that could make you homeless again without 30 days notice, and many, many other inhumane rules.

    I’m just homeless, the economy got me, I’m not a drug addict or crazy, I have a clean criminal record, why are they allowed to treat us so cruel? Are there rules for them? Please help me help others, who can’t speak up in fear of being homeless again.

    Serena

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