At 4:30 a.m., in the darkness of the early morning, interviewing homeless persons can be a task. But for the sake of discovering their personal vulnerabilities, we trek on. How long have you been homeless? How many times have you visited the emergency room? Are you a veteran?
This is part of the strategy of housing this country's most vulnerable homeless persons, under the leadership of the 100,000 Homes Campaign.
Three straight days of these registries, and by the time the results come out, you are just grateful you got through the week. The results read like an emergency room triage in a Third World health clinic. People living on our streets are hurting. They are sick. They are dying.
The one result that always upsets me is the simple question, "Have you ever encountered personal violence against you since you have been on the streets?" Around 30 to 40 percent of the people say yes.
So let's make this clear. Hundreds of thousands of Americans languish on our streets, unable to access habitable dwellings. Many are so sick that they will die within a year or two. And to top off this human tragedy, homeless Americans are being physically beaten up. Sounds like a sick low-budget movie that went straight to DVD distribution.
I wonder what would happen, if a national survey announced that 40 percent of Asian Americans encountered physical violence? Or Jewish Americans? The uproar in this country, and around the world, would certainly wake up this complacent country.
But with homeless Americans, violence against them does not seem to bother us.
In 2009, Todd struggled with mental health issues for most of his 41 years of life. With no personal safety net, he ended up on the streets, hanging out at the local Starbucks just blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Local business owners and residents knew him well, and would provide food and clothing.
Then one evening the call from the police dispatch reported a homeless man sprawled on the beach sand, so severely beaten he was unconscious. It was Todd.
The community was devastated, and even after a moving candle light vigil, the perpetrators were never found. I remember I stood up in front of the group explaining why housing homeless persons was so paramount. Housing could have saved Todd.
So why doesn't America consider violence against homeless Americans so significant that states would consider it a hate crime? The politically expedient answers claim that homeless Americans are not born being homeless -- like people of color. Others claim that the cost prosecuting and incarcerating perpetrators is just too much, given the current bleak economic conditions.
Violence is too costly to prosecute? Especially against hurting Americans who already experience hunger
A couple of states have bucked the expediency trend by including homelessness as part of their hate crimes laws. Here in California, a state that most of the country perceives as liberal, State Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg could not even get such a bill out of a legislative committee a couple of years ago. So Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal adjusted the bill to make hate crimes against homeless Californians a civil offense.
Last year, then-Governor Swarzennegger vetoed the bill, after the State Legislature approved it.
With a newly-elected Governor Brown now in office, Lowenthal is trying again to pass a similar bill. It is AB 312.
I wonder how many more violent offenses against homeless Americans, like Todd, will it take before this country realizes that physical beatings against hurting homeless persons is really a vicious hate crime?
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