Statistics have long shown that people who are homeless are more likely to be the victims of crime than those who are housed. If this sounds unbelievable, maybe it's because these crimes seldom make the news, except in extreme cases like the recent, sensational headlines of the murder of a homeless man in Toronto and four homeless men in New York City.
Research from 2016 into the safety of people sleeping rough found:
• More than one in three have been deliberately been hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence while homeless;
• Over one in three (34%) have had things thrown at them;
• Almost one in 10 (9%) have been urinated on while homeless;
• More than one in 20 (7%) have been the victim of a sexual assault;
• Almost half (48%) have been intimidated or threatened with violence; and
• Six in 10 (59%) have been verbally abused or harassed.
Then there's the attempted murder of people living in a California homeless encampment that was allegedly set ablaze by the son of the President of the local Chamber of Commerce. The problem in California is a growing threat to the homeless and new anti-homeless policy proposals that, when combined, have made the city of angels even more unfriendly for those on the streets.
Arson, assault, harassment and vandalism, as the rising cost of housing funnels more Los Angeles residents out of their homes and onto the streets, homeless people and their advocates are reporting an alarming rise in vigilante attacks against the unhoused.
The Los Angeles Police Department doesn’t keep specific records of vigilante attacks against the homeless. (One has to wonder why not?) But in interviews with close to a dozen people who live on the streets and in their cars, all said there had been a noticeable increase in attacks and harassment from people who target them for being homeless.
Not all vigilantism takes the form of violent attacks. People report being threatened and yelled at, getting trash thrown at them, being beeped at in the middle of the night. There’s also vandalism – RV’s graffitied, tires slashed or punctured with nails – and persistent harassment.
Even some advocates report being harassed – including having their addresses posted online – as a result of their work with the homeless.
The rise in vigilantism comes alongside Los Angeles policy proposals that many advocates have called anti-homeless. A draft of a new municipal law that would severely restrict where people could legally sleep outside includes a clause that some have compared to a “stand your ground” law for housed people against the homeless.
Increased vigilantism may also be linked to the rise of social media groups that are openly hostile to people living on the streets and in vehicles. Two such Facebook groups, both based in the San Fernando Valley, recently attracted media attention when activists published screenshots of some members making explicit comments about wanting to harass and even attack the unhoused, as well as pictures and videos of specific homeless people.
After being attacked, one homeless man, Chris, says he tries not to sleep. Another, Rita, said she thinks that divide is driven by fear. “A lot of people are frustrated, a lot of people from the community are losing their own housing. They’re afraid, and they think, ‘Oh my God, it’s because of us’,” Rita said.
Adapted from ‘I try not to sleep’,
Haven Toronto is a drop-in centre for elder men who have been impacted by poverty, homelessness and isolation. The centre serves thousands annually and sees between 250 and 400 clients a day, every day, all year. For clients, Haven Toronto is a safe, welcoming space where they can be part of a community and, at the same time, access vital supports including a full-time nurse, cousellors and a housing worker.