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In 2008, homeless individuals in America faced another year of brutality that ranged from assault to killings. Regrettably, these gruesome accounts are just a few of many that demonstrate the hate/violence faced by people experiencing homelessness each year. The following report documents 106 violent acts that occurred in 2008, collected from news articles and reports from advocates and victims across the country.

Living outside in public spaces, people who are homeless are more vulnerable to attacks. Most of our communities do not have adequate, affordable housing or shelter space to meet the need, leaving many homeless people to live outside. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 41.8% of our homeless population is unsheltered. [1] Undoubtedly, this percentage is higher as current economic issues have brought about high unemployment (9.5%) [2] and foreclosure rates (up 18% from January 2008) [3]. Without proper action to deal with the crisis of homelessness as a whole, our homeless neighbors will continue to be vulnerable to brutal attacks.

While some cities and states have taken positive steps, there are still many parts of the United States that continue to dehumanize homeless persons by creating and enforcing laws that criminalize their homeless status. These laws contain restrictions on sitting, sleeping, storing property, or asking for money in public spaces [4]. Laws that criminalize the homeless encourage the belief that homeless persons are not human, are unworthy of respect, and attacks against the homeless will go unnoticed.

Narratives in this report emphasize the atrocious acts of violence and discrimination faced every day by the homeless in the United States. Here are a few illustrative cases:

February 14: Frederick, Maryland. William Sigler, 49, a repeat offender of assault, drug possession, reckless endangerment, sexual assault, and battery, was found guilty of the fatal attack of Samuel Webster Hood Jr., 57, a homeless man living in Frederick.  Police were called to respond to an unconscious Hood with his skull cracked open from the attack.  Authorities report evidence of strangulation and severe trauma to the head and neck from repeated assault. A witness reportedly saw Sigler standing over Hood shouting to call 911, but said Sigler left before authorities arrived. 

Evidence found at the scene showed blood marks on the wall of the alley as well as on a windowsill.  Police were led to Sigler’s apartment, where a search produced blood spattered sneakers, blue jeans, and a hat. 

In December, pleading guilty toecond-degree murder, Sigler was sentenced by County Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. to 30 to 50 years in the Maryland Division of Corrections.  The Frederick News-Post reported, “It was the maximum sentence Dwyer could hand down.”  After trial, there remains to be no motive for the crime.  When Sigler was told that the victim was Sammy Hood, he said, “Oh him, he’s just a beggar, a vagrant.”     

March 23: Bartlett, Tennessee. Two homeless men were the victims of an attack on Easter Sunday in Bartlett, Tennessee.  Brenner Holloman, one of the victims, was unhurt from the attack but witnessed everything.  The attackers, adult males ages 19-22, used Molotov cocktails, a homemade concoction that consists of a bottle filled with gasoline and set on fire.  Holloman claimed the flames only made the attackers laugh harder, and “they thought it was funny all right, they absolutely did.”  Holloman now says he can hardly recognize his friend, Jeffery Martin, 37.  “It made me ill, he reports.  “I just saw him yesterday, his head ballooned out to there…his scalp was taken off, his right hand is completely bandaged up…” Martin reports that it “was the worst pain I’ve ever been in, in my life.”  Martin sustained second and third degree burns to his head, neck, ears, shoulders and hands.  Police found the attackers to be 20 year-old Michael Grace, 19 year-old Andrew Colin Hicks, 22 year-old John Tyler Eggleston, 19 year-old Wesley Ray, and 19 year-old Zach Addison Parrish.  All four have been charged with attempted aggravated arson, and Parrish was charged with the additional attempted second degree murder, as police suspect he threw the flaming bottle at the victims.  Eggleston and Grace pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived their preliminary hearing.  

June 26: Kansas City, Missouri. Rolando Aaron and Paul W. Simmons, both 19, were charged with first degree robbery for attacking a 54 year-old homeless man in Kansas City with a brick and robbing him.  The victim, a Vietnam veteran, told authorities that he woke up Thursday morning and found someone searching through his pockets.  Six different males surrounded him and told him that it was just a “simple robbery.”  The victim stood and tried to fight them off.  The suspects hit him in the head and back using a brick.  They tried to run away in a pick-up truck, taking his cell phone, a pair of shoes and $500.  The victim jumped into the truck after the suspects and struggled with them until they pulled into a QuikTrip parking lot where he got out and phoned the police.  Officers found five of the attackers and the victim identified them, after which the two juveniles were taken to the juvenile jail.  A third suspect was released.

Despite the dehumanizing anti-homeless laws in some parts of the country, there are some cities and states that have taken action to address the hate and violence faced by our homeless neighbors. This report highlights: positive steps being taken around the country to combat the growing trend of attacking homeless people, recommendations for advocates, policy makers, and members of the public to help end the violence faced by homeless persons.

Office of Planning & Development., U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, The Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (Jan. 2008).

United States Unemployment Rate. Trading Economics. 2009, July 10. 2009, July 13, 2009. <http://www.tradingeconomics.com/Economics/Unemployment-rate.aspx?Symbol=USD>

The Latest Updated Forclosure Rates. RealtyTrac. 4/4/09. 2009. <http://www.realtytrac.com/foreclosure/foreclosure-rates.html>

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and National Coalition for the Homeless. Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. Released: July 14, 2009.

CONTENTS: Main page | pdf of full report | Acknowledgements | Dedication | Executive Summary | Purpose, Methodology, and Previous Reports | Introduction | Historical Summary of Hate Crimes/Violence Data for 1999-2008 | Summary of Hate Crimes/Violence Data in 2008 | Summary of Teen/Young Adult Involvement in Hate Crimes/Violent Acts | Summary of Ages of the Accused versus Ages of the Victims | Summary of Victims Who Were Middle-Aged | Cities where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred in 2008 | Map of Cities where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred in 2008 | States where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred in 2008 | Map of States where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred in 2008 | Cities Where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred – 1999-2008 | Map of Cities Where Hate Crimes/Violence Occurred – 1999-2008 | Comparison of Hate Crime Homicides vs. Lethal Attacks on Homeless Individuals | National Media Coverage of Hate Crimes/Violent Acts Against Homeless People | Video Exploitation of Homeless People | Recognizing Anti-Homeless Violence as Hate Crime, by Brian Levin | Legislation | Recommendations for Action | Model City/County/State Legislation/Resolutions | Adopted City/County/State Legislation/Resolutions | Public Education Initiatives | Listing of Incidents by City | Case Descriptions Involving Deaths | Case Descriptions Involving Non-Lethal Rape/Sexual Assault | Case Descriptions Involving Non-Lethal Setting on Fire | Case Descriptions Involving Non-Lethal Beatings | Case Descriptions Involving Non-Lethal Shootings | Case Descriptions Involving Non-Lethal Police Harassment/Brutality | Appendix A: Sources | Appendix B: NCH Hate Crimes Public Service Ads |

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