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Letter to the Editor by Guest Matias Vega

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Hate Crimes, Violence Against the Homeless

Guest Post – by Matias Vega

Following last weekend’s devastating murders of two homeless individuals, Matias Vega of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Inc. wrote this piece to gather media attention.

Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Hate Crimes Committed Against Homeless People in 2013

This is the title of a June 2014 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) on the national trend of hate crimes and violence targeting people experiencing homelessness. I am a family physician who has worked exclusively with the homeless community over the past 26 years, am the current Medical Director at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless where I have worked for the last 16 years, and am a 24 year member of the NCH Board of Directors.

Hate Crimes By Class

For the past 15 years, we at NCH have been documenting hate crimes against homeless people across the nation. Sadly, what has happened locally in Albuquerque over the past 2 months is neither unique nor surprising. Since 1999, there have been over 1400 acts of violence against homeless individuals and over 375 deaths reported in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. 72% of the victims were men over the age of 40, and 48% of the perpetrators were males under the age of 20. For reference, homeless hate crimes leading to death have been greater in number than all other deadly hate crimes combined in 14 out of the last 15 years across all of the US.

These deaths all meet the definition of homeless hate crimes: crimes committed against people simply because of their homelessness and vulnerability. Much can be done to protect the lives of people experiencing homelessness including designating homeless status as a protected class, adding homeless status to existing hate crime laws, or passage of City or State homeless hate crime legislation or a Homeless Bill of Rights, and requirement of law enforcement to complete trainings on how to interact effectively and respectfully with the homeless community. Since most of these hate crimes are committed by teenagers, creating educational curricula in grade and high schools on homelessness can be essential in preventing future homeless hate crimes. As the NCH report documents, “Bias crimes send a message to the attacked group, as well as a message about society as a whole. There is a correlation between the criminalization of homelessness and hate crimes against homeless individuals. Without protection under hate crimes legislation, homeless individuals are targeted as a class because of their status in society. We need to send a message that people who are homeless are still people and, as such, should not be attacked.”

This is the time for NM and Albuquerque to lead the way in making crimes against people who are homeless a hate crime. In America and New Mexico, people deserve the right to a quality of life and safety from violence, and especially, murder, regardless of their housing status. Homelessness should not be a death sentence. We can and must do better in protecting the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

How are Tourism and Homelessness Related?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Criminalization, Food Sharing

Unintended Consequences: Leaving a Wake of High Living Costs in Tourist Destinations – By Julia Chambers

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly interested in the idea of responsible tourism. Many seek the most authentic and local experiences possible, but they do not necessarily consider how their presence may alter the place or the lives of the people who live there. The priority of responsible tourism is to minimize that impact. Most discussions about sustainable tourism, ecotourism, etc. are generally focused on places like Costa Rica, Kenya, or Thailand, but how are the trips that we take, our spring break trips and honeymoons, impacting the places we visit domestically?

It is no coincidence that we see the densest homeless populations in locations that are also desirable tourist destinations. While they arrive for different reasons, a decent climate is highly sought after and can reduce the burden of everyday life and survival. Tourists travel to warm places like Fort Lauderdale, San Diego and Honolulu to decompress and escape the cold winters. People experiencing homelessness also gravitate to these destinations for a bit of added security, because even if they cannot find any rental assistance or a place in a shelter, they can live more comfortably outside without the daily threat of hypothermia/hyperthermia that they might face in more dramatic climates. Visible homelessness is certainly higher in these locations.

Not all homeless individuals in these climates have travelled to arrive there. The truth is that a quality tourism industry is a powerful economic tool, which unfortunately does not always benefit the whole community. Many individuals experiencing homelessness in these sites have lived there for long periods of time and eventually could not keep up with the constantly-increasing, astronomical cost of living. Home prices and services are too expensive for the average citizen and access to basic necessities, like low-cost grocery stores, is often scarce. Jobs can be limited and many times reserved for skilled outside labor. The hospitality industry, for example, is very competitive; local talent is rarely developed and hardly ever brought into management roles. Orlando serves as an outstanding example of how a single tourist destination, like Disney world, can inflate the cost of living so high that the minimum wage workers keeping the destination running can hardly afford to live within a reasonable distance of the site. In an isolated state like Hawaii, there is fierce competition over job opportunities, even minimum wage work. Without massive job development on the part of the tourism industry, locals will be left with no work and nowhere else to go to look for employment. Even those with jobs are constantly at risk of falling into homelessness, as wages are inadequate to comfortably support a family.

If one were to fall into a state of homelessness, he or she could expect an exceptionally challenging future. Navigating shelter systems, housing authorities, and other service agencies is exhausting and difficult, but in high-tourism zones, those are just a few of the struggles that homeless individuals will face. In states like Florida, California and Hawaii, localities have enacted legislation that effectively criminalizes homelessness, in hopes of pushing the problem out of sight. Governments in these states have even purchased one-way bus or plane tickets for people experiencing homelessness in order to get them out of their jurisdictions. When the economy is so reliant on tourism dollars, it is natural for a local government or tourism board to take complaints seriously. Often times, tourists complain that they feel unsafe or uncomfortable around homeless individuals. The reputation of a destination can be tarnished so quickly, it is almost remarkable to see how agile governments can be in responding to economic threats. They generally first introduce bans to keep people from sleeping in the most visited parts of town. Sometimes they will open up a resource center far from the center of town to try to lure homeless people away from the hot spots.

HONOLULU-CRIMINALIZATION

Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to collect and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting/laying on public sidewalks, bans on begging or panhandling, prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, etc. in public places, and bans on sharing food with homeless people in public parks. Not only do these laws neglect the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, they actually punish them for their current circumstances. They are inherently flawed and will fail to assist in any effort to end homelessness in this country.

Honolulu’s current war on the homeless is perhaps the most concerning, where nightly sweeps and increasing numbers of anti-homeless ordinances are forcing homeless individuals to constantly relocate, but this is taking place all over the country, and not only in tourist destinations. We need to stand together and shout that it is not acceptable for our neighbors to be targeted and jailed simply for being poor.

NEW REPORT: Hate Crimes Committed against the Homeless in 2013

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Hate Crimes, Report, Violence Against the Homeless

Hate Crimes 2013 Cover

Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Hate Crimes and Violence Committed against Homeless People in 2013 is a new report that documents the incidents of violent attacks on people experiencing homelessness by housed perpetrators. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has been tracking these acts for 15 years. Sadly there currently is not a federal system in place to collect these statistics and many cases go unreported.

In 2013, there was a 23.8% increase in the overall number of attacks from the previous year. NCH learned of 109 attacks in 2013, 18 of which resulted in the death of the homeless victim.

This is a widespread issue; attacks have taken place in 47 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They most commonly occur in locations where homeless individuals tend to be more visible and thus more vulnerable to people passing by and seeing an opportunity.

Homeless populations are currently not protected by hate crimes legislation. You can help to stop these atrocities by advocating for local, state, and federal legislation that will classify the homeless as a protected class under hate crime legislation and collect appropriate data on the number of incidents that occur each year. Awareness programs and sensitivity trainings are also recommended to improve the treatment of homeless individuals in your community. Ultimately, providing access to affordable housing and getting people off the streets will be the best way to remove the risk of violence against this vulnerable and exposed population.

View the full report here!

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