Crimes against the homeless continue to increase. (Courtesy of daveynin via Wikimedia Commons)
Crimes against the homeless continue to increase. (Courtesy of daveynin via Wikimedia Commons)

Stigmatization remains a dangerous cause of violence.

And for one unfortunate group of Americans, the homeless, it has served as a primary reason for such acts whose numbers have spiked throughout the U.S. during the pandemic. 

“There seems to have always been a stigma around the homeless population and those who aren’t homeless use it as an excuse to justify their opinions and actions,” said Kristen Bolig, the CEO of SecurityNerd, a home protection company.

“People attack others like this when they view the ‘others’ as less-deserving of fair treatment or respect, therefore viewing them as less human,” Bolig added.

 According to experts and advocates, the past year has seen a spike in violence against people experiencing homelessness. 

Reports have revealed that the attacks included a beheading in Colorado, a sleeping man lit on fire in the stairwell of a New York City apartment complex and an attack by four juveniles on a sleeping woman in Spokane, Wash. 

Dozens of acts of violence reported occur daily, not just in the United States.

For example, in December in Calgary, police were forced to investigate a string of stabbings where the victims were homeless.

“Homelessness ends up being faceless and abstract – not about real people with lives. It’s easy to attack something that isn’t a person, but that’s the easy answer,” said the Reverend Matthew Best, pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in New Kingstown, Pa.

“The more complex and challenging answers point to many things that are in themselves more abstract,” Best added.

A report by InvisibleTV, which advocates for the protection of homeless individuals, revealed that between 2019 and 2020, homicides against unhoused individuals skyrocketed in Los Angeles, increasing by a 58 percent margin.

Statistics reveal that one-in-five homicide victims in Los Angeles count as a person experiencing homelessness

“This disturbing trend is nothing new, nor is it restricted to a specific locale. Instead, it is happening all across the nation,” InvisibleTV reported.

“What’s remarkable about this statistic – aside from the severity of the crime – is how well it mirrors the criminalization of homelessness,” the report continued. 

For example, homeless people account for precisely one out of every five prison bookings in Seattle. 

The overwhelming majority of such arrests are for non-violent crimes – namely, laws and policies that have been drafted to prevent people enduring homelessness from engaging in life-sustaining activities.

Over the past two decades, this type of criminalization has advanced dramatically.

“This means that the nation over, we have witnessed inflated rates of anti-vagrancy legislation,” the report continued. 

In turn, this has created an environment where unhoused individuals can go to prison for things like sitting, standing, walking, camping, sleeping, soliciting and more.

“In times of great distress, scapegoats have been a common way for societies to take their frustration and heave it on someone who is a cause or can be considered another,” Best said. “Combine this with the stress of our polarizing partisanship over the last several years, add in economic stresses and mounting debt and all these stresses have an impact. If they aren’t dealt with, they produce responses from people. So, some people are capable of healthy responses to stress, and some are not.”

Bolig concluded that homelessness’s stigma must cease.

“When people start viewing others this way, whether subconsciously or not, they can much easily resort to violence, having diminished their empathy or remorse for the population they have learned to belittle,” she said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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