Maryland became the first state in the country to sign a law to protect the homeless under its hate crime law. This now means that it will be a hate crime to target the homeless while committing a crime. Other hate crime laws already include protection for race, nationality, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Since statistics have been collected, it is estimated that 800 attacks were made in the last decade targeting the homeless with 217 deaths occurring as a result. Maryland’s law goes into effect in October, 2009. Hopefully, the nation’s capitol will also enact a similar law.
It’s a cruel world we live in when homeless people are targeted for crimes and attacked viciously just because they are homeless. But we all know bias exists against the homeless in many ways and on many levels. Maryland’s new hate crime law is targeted against those persons who see the homeless and view them as less than human. Yet there are many who refuse to see the homeless, view them as invisible and treat them as less than human. Many of us fall into the second category. While most of us would never commit a hate crime against the homeless, we are no more sensitive to their needs than those who commit such crimes.
We live in a country where the statistics on homelessness are becoming staggering. From the west coast to the east coast, people are becoming homeless at an alarming rate. Homeless advocates in Montgomery county, Maryland estimate that 1200 people are homeless there on any given day. Bear in mind that Montgomery country is one of the most affluent counties in the country. In the nation’s capitol, some homeless advocates estimate that there are about 4000 homeless living in Washington, DC. Some sleep in the park across from the White House nightly. In Fort Meyers, Florida, the soaring rate of foreclosures has caused a “rocket docket” of up to 1000 foreclosure cases a day in Lee County. It has become a growing county of homeless. Sacramento, the capitol of California has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country resulting in hundreds of people living outside in tents. These conditions are reminiscent of the deep depression days and shanty towns. Approximately 2700 are homeless in Sacramento and surrounding areas.
What is needed next after passing hate crime laws are affordable housing and yes, social programs to protect, assist, aid and transform the lives of the homeless. As we bail out banks, we ought to also protect the homelessness plight of people. To fail to do so is inhumane and a hate crime itself.