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Opinion: On Hate Crime and Homelessness

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Opinion: On Hate Crime and Homelessness

By Hannah Selwyn

In 2015, the FBI reported 5,850 hate incidents. In the two weeks following the past presidential election, 701 hate incidents occurred in the U.S. These numbers include only some of the 199 homeless victims, as reported by the National Homeless Coalition. A majority of the time, homeless persons are overlooked by society and our nation. Not only do people have to deal with fear and hate because of their identities, but also face stress and worry about where to sleep and how to get food.

I myself had to leave my home near the end of 2014 for my own safety. I was lucky enough to have supporting friends who hosted me for about a month before I went back to Oregon to start my second semester of college, but the time I spent without a home left me with a better understanding of how communities and other people fail those living without a home. As a student studying in Washington D.C. I am appalled to see what lack of action the rest of the country taken and the ignorance we hold in how we treat other people, especially those vulnerable to systems we put in place.

As a response to the spike in hate crimes, Representative Nydia Velazquez introduced a new bill in the House called the “National Hate Crime Hotline Act”. The bill outlines the granting of funds to support a national hate crime hotline and training for law enforcement agencies. The Congresswoman from New York understands that our nation was built on the ideals of embracing differences and promoting individual pursuits of happiness but that same nation now promotes divisions, and runs on fear and hate. She is drawing national attention to hate incidents and not just attention within her own socially liberal state, she is explaining to the U.S. the impact hate has. What the bill does not include, are the many groups of people who are treated as second class citizens, including the homeless and others vulnerable victims.

However, homeless persons have been victims of crimes that are more lethal than those of other hate acts. The FBI reported that 18 hate crime murders occurred in the year of 2015, yet the National Homeless Coalition reported that 27 lethal incidents took place a majority of which were hate bias incidents. These crimes cannot be overlooked, especially when they have a further fatal outcomes. Our justice system holds the responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. They have the duty to protect those who are more vulnerable. The local system is clearly not enough, as evidenced by hate crimes continuing to rise as a response to presidential speech;  making more victims in the process. Homeless people should be acknowledged in any future bills on hate crimes. 

California has the largest population of persons experiencing homelessness; Sonoma County understands the necessity of helping people with to meet their basic human needs; creating a task force and declaring a state of emergency on homeless. Our elected officials and neighbors know that steps need to be taken to help other citizens who might not be as fortunate. It would only make sense that we would be the ones to ask our legislators to include vulnerable victims in law enforcement training to discontinue treating people in unpleasant situations unfairly.

We cannot forget about the victims that are mistreated on a daily basis, not just by other citizens, but by our local officials and police. Homelessness is not a second class citizenship, it is a living situation; anyone can be homeless with one turn of events, but that does not mean they are not still citizens or the same person they were before. If everyone is created equal in this nation, why do we not treat them as equals in regard to support and resources?

Comments:

I am a student at San Jose State University writing in response to the article, “Op-ed On Hate Crime and Homelessness”, published November 27th, 2016. The article discusses a rise in hate crime, especially as we move into a new presidency under Donald Trump. A solution brought forth in response to this issue is to implement the National Hate Crime Hotline Act", which will allow people to report a hate crime committed towards them or others. I would like to take this opportunity to state that I feel this is a great step towards cracking down on hate crimes.

In my own city and on the university campus (where hate crimes often occur), we are instructed to contact police. However, as someone who has experienced a few hate crimes, it did not feel worth it to get police involved. I feel as though the police do not have time to legitimately investigate these types of crimes. I believe it will be helpful and more effective if there is an organization that specifically adheres to these issues. This is especially true if there are people like me who are skeptical of reporting a hate crime at all. It would be great for more cities and states, as well as college campuses, to get on board with this policy!

Sincerely,

Londyn Pitts, Undergraduate Student

School of Social Work, San Jose State University

 San Jose, CA