One of the greatest tragedies of modern America is the plight of the homeless. Nearly a million Americans make up this population, a portion of people that often live in the most horrific conditions. It is impossible to imagine what such a life would be like, but it is certainly possible to try to empathize. Unfortunately, such empathy can be hard to find.
Just this summer, Ronald Smith, 57, was murdered in Bloomington’s O’Neil Park, beaten to death by three teenagers. A Bloomington native, Smith actually preferred living on the streets, and although his situation was unique, the nature of the crime committed against him was not.
Also during this summer, hundreds of miles away in the city of Albuquerque, N.M., a crime was committed that was eerily similar to the tragedy in Bloomington. Three teenagers beat two homeless men to death, the only difference being that these boys were about three years younger than the ones who committed the same crime in Bloomington.
These atrocious crimes are a part of a growing epidemic of hate crimes against the homeless, one that is sweeping the nation. In 2013 alone, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) reported that the number of hate crimes against the homeless rose nearly 25 perecent compared to the previous year.
“These crimes are believed to have been motivated by the perpetrators’ biases against homeless individuals or by their ability to target homeless people with relative ease,” The NCH reported.
Such a drastic figure alone should justify immediate action by our country’s legislators, but instead many cities are doing the opposite. More and more, cities are making it illegal to sleep in parks or other public areas, even banning the use of makeshift shelters or bedrolls. Some cities, such as Birmingham, Ala. have made it illegal for people to even feed the homeless.
Such “policies” represent an attitude that dehumanizes the homeless, as if legislators see the homeless as vermin rather than people. There is no compassion behind these types of lawmakers, only the desire to see the homeless forced out of their neighborhoods and cities.
This attitude can no longer be tolerated and it cannot be expected that the homeless should simply “fend for themselves.” According to mentalhealthpolicy.org, one-third of the homeless suffer from “untreated psychiatric illnesses.”
Many of the rest lack the job skills necessary to find work, and even if they had them, would likely not be hired anyway.
Instead of shunning them, legislators need to make it more of a priority to get the homeless off the streets.
This could include offering more affordable housing programs, better mental health services, and more employment and education training. Whatever the solutions may be, they certainly don’t involve leaving them on the streets to risk starvation or murder.
The homeless that we see on the streets are veterans, the mentally ill, and the uneducated. More importantly though, they are people. Until legislators start recognizing them as such, the violent crimes against them will only continue.
Nick Ulferts is a senior English education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org