Today, a body was found in a vacant building in Richmond’s East End. The gentleman was homeless, a well-known panhandler of sorts. The location where he was found was one that is popular among Richmond’s “street homeless.” It is close to Freedom House’s meals program where they serve breakfast and dinner, and Richmond’s Homeless Point of Entry is nearby as well, which provides crisis case management and the referrals to all shelters in Richmond.
Details are still being gathered by investigators, but one must wonder:
1.Was this man targeted because he was homeless?
2.Was he on the losing end of a fight with another person experiencing homelessness?
Both questions demonstrate potential scenarios that are fairly common in the United States.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there have been at least 880 unprovoked attacks the homeless, including 244 fatalities. Look on Youtube and you will find numerous videos of teens and adults harassing and beating the homeless. These “thrill offenders” are willing to sell their “bum fight” footage to producers who sell the tapes for $20.00 online! What sad, pathetic person buys this?
Then there are cases of turf battles or other disputes where an outsider is not involved, which could also be the case in the man who died today. As some of you may know, this past May, Samuel E. “Satan” Gase was convicted of second degree murder in the fatal beating of Robert Edward “Yard Sale” Dyck. Gase had a long history of substance and alcohol abuse; but, the dispute apparently was over Dyck hitting a female whom Gase had befriended.
So what can we do to ensure our homeless are not murdered, by the homeless community and others?
1.Change policy to include homeless individuals in hate crime legislation. Delegate Patrick Hope has proposed such legislation in the past; however, his efforts were unsuccessful primarily because of the fiscal impact it would cause in raising offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.
2.Change attitudes towards the homeless. No one deserves to be victimized because of their housing situation. It’s not funny watching two homeless individuals fight on the street. If you see something like that, report it to the police; don’t stand there and videotape the whole thing then walk away.
3.Contribute to homeless service providers so they can adequately serve their clients. Mental and substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, and other services could dramatically impact in a positive way, those currently living on the streets, some of whom have erratic behaviors, mood disorders, and other mental illnesses.
This of course is just a starting point. What are your suggestions?