NCH and partners ask DOJ to investigate Criminalization of Homelessness in Miami

 

NCH joined the National Homelessness Law Center, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Southern Legal Counsel to send the following letter to the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice. 

We applaud the actions of DOJ to open an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and we believe it is historic for the Attorney General to emphasize the  treatment of those without housing in announcing the investigation. As we told your staff, we  believe that the San Diego police are engaged in a much larger campaign to endanger the lives of  those without housing by throwing away personal possessions and displacing thousands of  unhoused individuals. Since our meeting, it has come to our attention that the City of Miami  Police are engaged in a systematic and coordinated effort to make homelessness disappear by  regular harassment of those without housing.  As you know the City of Miami was sued by homeless individuals in the 1980s in Pottinger vs.  City of Miami. There were settlement negotiations in the 1990s and an agreement was struck.  The activists and homeless individuals claimed that there were regular violation of the agreement  and eventually the court ended the oversight of the Pottinger settlement despite a great deal of  evidence that there was regular police harassment of homeless people in Miami. While we recognize that DOJ’s oversight of the City of Miami Police related to police shootings recently ended, we believe the pattern and practice of systemic engagement of those living outside and forcing them to relocate and to regularly have their personal possessions confiscated and discarded demands further scrutiny.  

The National Homelessness Law Center, the Southern Legal Counsel and Legal Services of  Greater Miami join the National Coalition for the Homeless with this letter. The local Legal  Services of Greater Miami have several clients who are unsheltered individuals and have  reported incidents in which City of Miami employees under the supervision of City of Miami  Police have thrown away almost all if not all their property. They have documented the  discarding of medical devices, prescription medications, clothing, shoes, tents, identification  documents, dentures, glasses, family photos, and even a family member’s ashes. Most of these  individuals are African American and LatinX residing on the streets of Miami. In addition to  Legal Services’ clients, we have the contact information for another dozen individuals who have  had these negative experiences with the City of Miami police, and we could solicit additional  voices if necessary.  

Further, on October 28, 2021, the City of Miami passed an ordinance which prohibits  encampments on public property which further criminalizes those experiencing homelessness. Typically, DOJ investigations are opened after a tragedy like George Floyd in Minneapolis,  Brionna Taylor in Louisville or Timothy Russell/Malissa Williams in Cleveland, but we are  hoping to avoid a similarly tragic situation in Miami. The individuals swept by the police are  continually starting over. They are having their health jeopardized by discarding their life  sustaining medicine that a doctor has prescribed to address their mental illness or other chronic  conditions. They feel frustrated, angry and treated as a second class citizens by the City of  Miami. We are asking for DOJ involvement to stop a potentially deadly encounter between  those living outside and the police supervising these clean ups. Any of the organizations signed  on to this letter would be willing to assist in any way we can with a DOJ investigation of the  pattern or practice of the City of Miami police.  

Sincerely,  

Donald Whitehead
Executive Director
National Coalition for the Homeless

Jeffrey M. Hearne Esq
Director of Litigation
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Eric Tars
Legal Director
National Homelessness Law Center

Jodi Siegel
Executive Director
Southern Legal Counsel, Inc.

On May 1, 2021 a political action committee convinced voters to pass an ordinance forcing the City of Austin to ticket people who violate the ‘no camping ordinance’ within the city limits.  This was contrary to guidelines by the Center for Disease Control which recommended that communities leave people alone to shelter in place until the pandemic is passed, or take advantage of the FEMA and other recovery programs to pay for hotel rooms for the population.  NCH has documented 40 of the 100 largest cities has also undertaken sweeps over the last year contrary to CDC guidelines. The City began warning people to leave their tents in June and then began ticketing people in July.

Proposition B was passed in a special election with only 20% of the voters actually bothering to show up. The dubiously named “Save Austin Now” PAC spent $1.9 million to convince Austin voters to be afraid of people who are unhoused. The legislation also demanded a crackdown on panhandling, despite sweeping judicial protection of the right panhandle. So, a deeply flawed law which violates the constitution and basic humanity for those struggling during a pandemic passed by voters and implemented by local law enforcement began to make criminals out of those who lost their housing in one of the most expensive places to live in the South. 

A number of Austin-based groups led by people who have experienced homelessness reached out and asked for help from the National Coalition for the Homeless. We worked with local groups to draft this national sign-on letter, asking for the Austin city officials to act in favor of humanity and refuse to further criminalize people for having nowhere to go. We are not taking additional endorsements at this time.  If you have questions, please e-mail them to bdavis@nationalhomeless.org

There is news that the Orwellian-sounding Save Austin Now, along with four local businesses, were filing suit against the City of Austin for not enforcing Proposition B against enough unhoused people. The City has denied the charges stating that 18 tickets were issued over the last month. The City of Austin has attempted to place more of the unhoused into hotels, but has not used much of their HUD emergency assistance to give housing relief to those struggling because of the pandemic. In an attempt to pile on, the state also passed HB 1925 which prevents local government from not enforcing anti-camping ordinances.

The millions that have been spent in this effort to criminalize people for being poor by the Texas government and governor, as well as “Save Austin Now” political action committee could have been much better used in ensuring safe, accessible housing for Austin residents!!

Please click here to view the sign on letter supported by 17 local and national groups.

After the Peachtree-Pine Shelter was forced by the city of Atlanta to close its doors in 2017, Anita Beaty has remained dedicated to activist efforts in the homeless community, continuing her decades-long career advocating and providing for those in need. Beaty, who oversaw the Peachtree-Pine Shelter for twenty years, has worked in the homeless community for much longer, her history of activism stretching as far back as the eighties. Whether it was activism or overseeing the shelter, Beaty consistently abided by a philosophy that no one should be left behind or left out. She has always placed high value on “letting the people who needed the service run the service,” and described how this philosophy of care for others informed her activism through the years. 

In one story, Beaty described a march she organized every year for twenty-nine years to celebrate homeless memorial day on November 1st. Various shelters, congregational groups, or other facilities would carry banners representing their group, made in the Peachtree-Pine art studio, along with a procession of crosses with the names of homeless people who had died that year. Each year, she recalled, there would be around 60 to 80 crosses. The procession finished at the Cathedral, where there would be a ceremony addressing the issue of homelessness, with a Litany created by the Task Force, and remembrances of the dead, name by name. 

Beaty and her organization, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, would hire buses to pick people up at every shelter that would participate, and the cathedral served them a hot meal. Looking back, Beaty recalled the event with fondness for the community it fostered. 

Beaty also reflected that a key component of her personal philosophy was an element of playfulness. “I need to enjoy what I do,” she said. In one story she recounted, Beaty and the Task Force were protesting the improvement project the city of Atlanta was undertaking at Woodruff Park prior to their hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics. The park had been a gathering place for members of the homeless community, so when the mayor of Atlanta showed up in a hard hat for a photo-op groundbreaking on the construction, several of the protestors laid in the hole the mayor was to stand in, completely preventing their chance at a photo-op. Beaty chuckled as she recalled how the mayor’s face turned purple with rage, and when he retreated to his car the protestors followed, and it looked as if he was the one leading the march. Beaty also recalled a city council meeting they attended, when she handed out signs to everyone with them that said “true,” “false,” and “bald-faced lie.” When one of the council members said something about homelessness, the crowd held up their “bald-faced lie” signs, and Beaty recalled it was “hysterical” as the council member tried to talk down the signs. 

The visual arts have always been a major part of Beaty’s activism. During her time as its leader, Beaty opened an art studio at Peachtree-Pine, where shelter residents could come to draw, paint, and be creative. Beaty sometimes brought in artists from around the country, especially artists who had been homeless or experienced similar struggles. They “had a ball with us,” she remembered. “It was so exciting to intentionally bring in like-minded people who can show folks who’ve been excluded from all that that they, too, can dream.” Beaty emphasized that giving shelter residents access to resources that they would not otherwise have access to was a way of lifting them up: “There are artists who don’t even know it, don’t have the leisure to explore that, or could become artists and become part of that culture.” Beaty’s art studio is living proof that art has the power to bring out the best in people who are experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, or other problems. Not only that, Beaty noted that putting shelter residents’ work on display helped to bust public stereotypes about them. 

 “Let’s break the mythology,” she said. “Let’s take care of the fear by being together in fun places: food, art, coffee.” 

Beaty is sure to acknowledge that activist efforts do not always turn out the way we hope they will. When she took part in the Housing Now March on Washington in 1989, she recalls the immense expectations they had: “It was an action that we thought was gonna change the world, change this country at least, and sensitize the policymakers to the absolute necessity of changing laws,” she remembered. Obviously, the march did not have the effect Beaty and its organizers hoped it would.  The funding of a growing homelessness services “industry” was a direct result, but the right to housing, permanent affordable accessible housing, was then and is still the emergency need.

But Beaty also believes the march did make a difference, even if it wasn’t on the wide scale she had hoped it would. “Success is relative,” she said, recalling many times when she thought an effort she was part of was more successful than it was. But activism can still be successful, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. One outcome that Beaty pointed out from the Housing Now March was HUD policy, which, she says, she is still looking at to determine how it has evolved over the decades since the march. 

Beaty’s long career in activism shows us that success, whether small or large, can be found through determination to make a difference and a passion for celebrating inclusion. It is the stories of activists like Beaty that have the most to teach us about how to make change happen, and Beaty’s stories remind us that change happens in and with communities, leaving no one behind, including the excluded in operating, managing, and developing of all services designated for those very people, and working together to foster a just and creative world.

The National Coalition for the Homeless released its annual report on bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness on December 21, 20 Years of Hate, outlines the 39 lethal attacks and the 44 non-lethal attacks that occurred in 2018 and 2019 throughout the United States. December 21st also marks 30 years of remembering the deaths of people experiencing homelessness through Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.  

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, 20 Years of Hate provides an in-depth look at the types of crimes homeless individuals experienced in 2018 and 2019, 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. 

The report will be released on December 21, 2020, which commemorates the 30th Annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a remembrance of those who have passed away during the year while unhoused. Events will be 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. 20 years of 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. The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council have partnered with groups around the country to create a Mortality Toolkit now available to help give a more accurate count of those who have perished on the streets of America.

This year’s 20 Years of Hate report marks the 20th 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 2018 and 2019. Often considered ground zero for homelessness, Los Angeles, in particular, saw almost 10% of overall incidents recorded, from acid attacks and video-taped stabbings to police officers murdering a homeless man after a noise complaint. There is a clear correlation between the growing visible presence of homelessness, as occurs in Los Angeles, and the number and severity of attacks from housed persons.

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 20 Years of 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. 

By Annie Leomporra

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) came out with their recommendation on how to address homeless encampments during the COVID pandemic. The CDC statement read that

… if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living in encampments to remain where they are. Encourage people living in encampments to increase space between people and provide hygiene resources in accordance with the Interim Guidance for People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness

Image by Western Regional Advocacy Project

For advocates and people experiencing homelessness, this was an exciting statement that spoke to what we all know to be the truth, that homelessness is a public health emergency and that sweeps exacerbate health risks for those living outdoors. The CDC recommended providing access to clean water, hand washing stations, bathrooms, and regular trash pick up for people living outdoors. We thought maybe this would be an opportunity for communities across this country to re-think encampment sweeps, and the criminalization of homelessness. For a little while, in many communities, that is what happened. 

Meanwhile, due to funding cuts and social distancing restrictions, massive congregate shelters had to downsize their occupancy. Some people got transferred to hotels/motels or other services while others went outdoors. Further, as the pandemic economic downturn started to cause real hardship, more folks were forced to seek emergency housing assistance. With shelters at capacity, more people were forced outdoors and after just a few short months, municipalities across this country resumed encampment sweeps, going against CDC guidelines. 

Encampment sweeps aren’t the only thing that continued, the criminalization of ‘quality of life crimes’ came back in full force. In Hawaii, the Civil Beat, reported that the city of Honolulu received $38 million in CARES Act, and the Honolulu Police Department received at least $16 million of that for overtime pay. This overtime pay is suppose to be used to enforce they current mayor’s pandemic rules, however those who were most cited happened to be people experiencing homelessness.

One man has been cited nearly 100 times since March for 199 supposedly pandemic related violations. He has also received 37 tickets for quality of life crimes. Once someone receives a citation they are required to appear in court. A missed court appearance can turn into a bench warrant and lead into an arrest. In citing people experiencing homelessness for little else than not having anywhere to quarantine or social distance, the city of Honolulu not only is being incredibly cruel, but it is creating a dangerous situation for health of the entire community. 

The National Coalition for the Homeless urges localities put into practice the CDC guidelines on unsheltered homeless, and protect this vulnerable population from unnecessary risk of COVID infection, especially as the weather turns cold. We also demand that cities and states end of the practice of criminalizing poverty and homelessness!

Our Nation and the World are fearful of the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our hearts go out to George Floyd, his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now. The massive protests that are taking place across the globe, are revealing years of pent-up frustration with racism and inequality. The militarization of policing in the United States and the repeated acts of violence against people of color by the police, creates a combustible threat—one that strikes at the very foundations of our democracy.

NCH stands in solidarity with those in America who are not satisfied with a society that fails to denounce the structural racism that plagues our nation.  As many of us watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered right in front of our eyes, or Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted down and murdered on video, or Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed in her own home, we are reminded of many more precious lives taken by the hands of law enforcement – those who are trusted to protect us.

Repeatedly, we hear anguished cries as one more black or brown person takes their last breath, too soon. We are reminded of the reality that until we address structural racism in this country, these horrendous images will continue as nightmares in a never-ending loop.

As we battle multiple crises, the COVID-19 pandemic, the senseless death of yet another black man at the hands of law enforcement, and an attack on our civil liberties, we pray for everyone’s safety and health. We must remain vigilant stewards in hopes of an America and World filled with peace, equality, and justice for all.

Donald Whitehead
Board President
National Coalition for the Homeless

NATIONAL COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS WELCOMES SUPREME COURT DECISION TO ALLOW MARTIN V. BOISE CASE STAND.  CALLS FOR NEW INVESTMENTS TO ADDRESS THE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF STREET HOMELESSNESS

The National Coalition for the Homeless applauds the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a review of the Martin v. Boise case, leaving in place the decision by the 9th Circuit that people experiencing homelessness cannot be punished for camping or sleeping on public property where there are no adequate alternatives.

The Boise decision remains the law, at least in the states within the 9th U.S. Circuit.  Criminalizing homelessness, in absence of reasonable and acceptable alternatives to sleeping on the streets, is unconstitutional, and cities and states must act to develop adequate shelter and affordable to address homelessness in their communities.

“Today is a victory for people experiencing homelessness”, said John Parvensky, Acting Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.  “It is not a victory because people can legally sleep on the streets.  Rather it is a victory because it will force communities to address homelessness proactively – through the development of an adequate supply of affordable housing, while providing safe and appropriate emergency shelter in the interim”. 

NCH calls of the Federal Government to immediately and significantly increase its investment in both housing and services for those experiencing homeless as well as in broader pubic and affordable housing for those at risk of becoming homeless.

In what appears to be an escalation on the White House’s war on the homeless, rather than a righteous war on homelessness, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released an unsigned report this week on “The State of Homelessness in America” that is on its face absurd, and uses faulty logic, statistics and policy prescriptions to give cover to the President’s recently stated desire to crack down on the homeless by criminalizing and warehousing people experiencing homelessness – not to help end their misery, but to alleviate the impact of street homelessness on real estate investors and businesses.

The report claims that homelessness is caused by 1) the higher costs of housing due to overregulation of housing markets, 2) permissive policies increasing the “tolerability of sleeping on the streets”, 3) the supply of homeless shelters, and 4) the ineffectiveness of previous federal policies in reducing homelessness.  Finally, in heralds the Trump Administration’s actions to reduce Homelessness without offering any evidence to support the impact of such actions on the reductions of homelessness.

“This report seemingly attempts to give cover to the President’s recent attacks on cities experiencing the crisis of increased homelessness without taking responsibility for the Administration’s own actions which undercut state and local efforts to end homelessness through a combination of housing and health care”, said John Parvensky, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.  “The report purports to be an economic analysis of homeless, but instead uses misleading statistics, faulty analysis and spurious conclusions to blame homelessness on those experiencing it, rather than on failure of the housing market and government policy to provide real solutions at the scale necessary to truly end homelessness.”

The report’s simplistic analysis of the effect of regulations on the cost of housing ends with the startling conclusion that a “1 percent reduction rental home prices reduces the rate of homelessness by 1%.”  While the regulatory environment may have a marginal impact of the cost of building housing, the actual cost of rental housing is dictated by the laws of supply and demand (something you would think a council of economic advisors would understand).  The cities with the highest rates of homelessness also have the greatest shortage of affordable housing with rents low enough for those experiencing homelessness to afford. 

When there is a shortage of housing units, owners will set the rents as high as the market will allow, which puts the cost far above what people experiencing homelessness can afford.  The report itself acknowledges that the mean incomes of people experiencing homelessness is about one-half of the poverty level – which equates to $6,445 for a single individual and $12,375 for a family of four.  Yet the 2019 fair market rent in Los Angeles is $1,158 for an efficiency apartment and $2,401 for a three bedroom apartment.  Thus, the average homeless persons in Los Angeles would need spend twice their income to rent an average apartment.  A 1% reduction in rent prices would have no impact on reducing homelessness.  Even a 50% reduction in rent due to deregulation (which even the report’s authors don’t suggest is possible) would mean that the average homeless person would still need to spend all of their income for an apartment.   The solution to high rents is not deregulation, but increased governmental subsidies to bring those rents within the reach of all Americans.

The report’s contention that tolerating people living on the streets increases homelessness is equally absurd.  Talk to any person living on the streets of Skid Row or in any city and you will discover that it is the lack of available, accessible and affordable alternatives that drive people to find refuge on the streets, not tolerance of such refuge.  Alternatively, criminalizing homelessness through camping bans, sweeps, and other means does not reduce homelessness – it only moves people from one place to another and makes it more difficult for outreach workers to engage and connect these people to the limited housing options that may be available to them.

Similarly, the report’s claim that the supply of shelter increases homelessness is laughable.  Building shelters, which are in already in short supply in most communities, no more increases homelessness than building hospitals increases those who are sick.  While building quality shelter may be one effective strategy of reducing street homelessness by providing realistic alternatives to those sleeping on the streets, few people would choose shelter over safe and affordable housing.

Fourth, the report’s critique of previous federal policies does raise serious questions about whether HUD’s contention that homelessness is actually declining in most communities is accurate due to methodological problems and changes in definitions.  However, it’s contention that evidence-based practices of “housing first” and permanent supportive housing are ineffective in reducing homeless is flawed.  Those interventions are designed to end the homelessness of those who have access to such housing, and numerous studies have documented that these approaches do in fact end homeless for 90% of those housed through these approaches.  The problem isn’t the policy intervention.  The problem is that the Federal government has never funded these interventions to the level needed to dramatically reduce homelessness nationwide.

The growth of mass homelessness in our cities did not occur overnight.  It is the result of nearly four decades of federal budget cuts to affordable and public housing programs under both Republican and Democratic administrations beginning in the 1980s.  Indeed, the Administration’s recent budget proposals have called for reductions in funding for strategies that work, not increasing funding to the level needed to truly end homelessness.

This year, HUD provided only $415 million in homeless assistance grants to California, a paltry sum compared to the number of people experiencing homelessness in that state.  Furthermore, only 4.5% of this funding was available to fund new projects to house those currently on the streets or in shelters – the remaining funding was needed just to keep those individuals previously housed through federal support from losing their housing.

Meanwhile, California has recently committed $1 billion of new state funding, and Los Angeles voters approved two $2 billion bonds to address homelessness.

If the Trump administration was serious about ending homelessness in California and across our nation, it would call for a massive new investment of funding for homeless assistance and affordable housing – not increased efforts to criminalize homelessness or warehouse those currently on the streets.

We need to demand that the President and Congress significantly increase its funding for homeless assistance programs — to not only continue to house those previously housed who need continued assistance to remain housed, but also to provide new housing those currently living on the streets.  Incremental increases are not sufficient.  

They must also restore affordable housing funding across the board to the levels necessary so that those experiencing homelessness are not continually competing for limited housing with those living at risk of homelessness, on fixed incomes, or working at minimum wage jobs. 

We know how to end homelessness through a combination of affordable housing, health care, and social supports.  Criminalization and warehousing of the homeless are not the answers.

 

In an act of hypocrisy that is extreme, even when compared to the serial outrageousness we have come to expect from Washington in recent years, the Trump Administration has taken initial action seeking to criminalize homelessness by relocating people experiencing homelessness from the streets of Los Angeles and other California cities to federal facilities.  While appropriate federal investment is desperately needed to address the growing crisis of homelessness in cities across the nation, federal efforts to criminalize homelessness, or to create warehouses to move the homeless out of sight and out of mind are clearly not the answer.

The Trump Administration is complicit in the continuing growth of homelessness.  While it did not start under its watch, the administration has offered no positive proposals to address homelessness nor its main underlying cause — the lack of affordable housing.  Rather, the administration has proposed significant budget cuts to HUD’s affordable housing and homeless funding every year.   Other actions, such as repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cuts to SNAP benefits, and cuts to housing assistance for undocumented individuals in public housing, all undercut state and local efforts to end homelessness.

The growth of mass homelessness beginning in the 1980’s began with massive cuts to federal housing assistance for public housing and the Section 8 program.  Federal funding to specifically address homelessness has never been at a level commensurate with the need nor adequate to end homelessness.

Currently, HUD holds a yearly national competition for funding to award its Homeless Assistance grants to local communities.  In January, HUD announced the distribution of $2.2 Billion in such grants.  However, the vast majority of HUD funding was needed just to renew existing projects housing formerly homeless persons.  Nationwide, 91.3% of projects funded were renewal projects, with only 5.8% ($126 million) being new housing or service projects.  Of these 71% of renewals (totaling $2 billion) were for permanent supportive housing – applications to keep those who were housed through those projects remain housed.

In California, only 4.5% of the $415 million of HUD grants funded new projects to house those currently on the streets or in shelters – the remaining funding was needed just to keep those previously housed from losing their housing. 

Meanwhile, California has committed $1 billion of state funding, and Los Angeles voters approved two $2 billion bonds to address homelessness.

If the Trump administration was serious about ending homelessness in California and across our nation, it would call for a massive new investment of funding for homeless assistance and affordable housing.

We need to demand that the President and Congress significantly increase its funding for homeless assistance programs — to not only continue to house those previously housed who need continued assistance to remain housed, but also to provide new housing those currently living on the streets.  Incremental increases are not sufficient.  

They must also restore affordable housing funding across the board to the levels necessary so that those experiencing homelessness are not continually competing for limited housing with those living at risk of homelessness, on fixed incomes, or working at minimum wage jobs. 

We know how to end homelessness through a combination of affordable housing, health care, and social supports.  Criminalization and warehousing of the homeless are not the answers.

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 36 deaths per daylawmakers 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.

 

Read the full report.