The National Coalition for the Homeless has published its annual report on bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness on December 21, commemorated as National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness in 2016-2017, outlines the 48 lethal attacks and the 64 non-lethal attacks that occurred in 2016 and 2017 throughout the United States.
The report discusses the structural violence that has created endemic poverty, and proposes legislative solutions to lawmakers and advocates working to protect people experiencing homelessness from violence. Combining statistics and narratives, Vulnerable to Hate provides an in-depth look at the types of crimes homeless individuals experienced in 2016 and 2017, from police brutality to stabbings. The report breaks down lethal and non-lethal crimes by state, and each crime is documented by city, date, and description.
December 21, 2018 commemorates the 28th Annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a remembrance of those who have passed away during the year while unhoused. Events are held nationwide to remember thousands who may not have had memorial services. A growing number of cities have been releasing annual reports on the number of community members who have died while homeless. Vulnerable to Hate only documents a fraction of these deaths. As the National Health Care for the Homeless Council points out, life expectancy for someone who is homeless can be 20-30 years younger than the general population. The National Coalition for the Homeless has estimated that annually, there are 13,000 individuals who die on our streets.
This year’s Vulnerable to Hate report marks the 18th year the National Coalition for the Homeless has analyzed bias-motivated violence that leads to many deaths among the homeless community. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has documented increases in reported Hate Crimes against federally protected classes since the 2016 elections. The numbers of attacks reported against people experiencing homelessness have decreased during this time. It is likely that as political views have bifurcated, bias against federally-protected classes has become more accepted or promoted in the mainstream culture. Still, the data collected by the National Coalition for the Homeless demonstrates that bias-motivated violence against homeless persons continues to be highly prevalent in our communities.
California saw the most crimes against people experiencing homelessness in 2016 and 2017. In particular, a series of violent crimes in San Diego were committed by serial perpetrator John D. Guerrero, who was arrested for the murder and attempted murder of several homeless individuals. In one instance, a 23 year-old man, Dionicio Derek Vahidy, was doused in accelerant and lit on fire by Guerrero. This example highlights the randomized nature of the hatred homeless individuals experience.
Federal and local legislation could help to prevent bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness, adding housing status as a protected class under hate crimes statutes or vulnerable victims sentencing guidelines. However, as evident from the crimes outlined in Vulnerable to Hate, a cultural shift is needed to change how US society treats and values our homeless population, in order to prevent hate crimes and to build healthy and compassionate communities.