Florida leads nation in violence against the homeless
By Ihosvani Rodriguez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — For the third year in a row, Florida led the country in 2007 for reports of violence against the homeless, according to a national study released Tuesday.
The study, conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless, found that violent crimes against the homeless rose by about 13 percent nationwide, to 160 reported incidents. Of those, 28 ended with fatalities.
Florida had 31 reported attacks, including 11 in South Florida, in 2007. Ten of those attacks were reported in Palm Beach County, including one fatality. One report came from Broward and none came from Miami-Dade County.
South Florida advocates for the homeless who gathered Tuesday at the main Homeless Voice shelter in Hollywood, said far more attacks were not documented or included in the study entitled "Hate, Violence, and Death On Main Street USA." The study draws from reports to police, the media and social service agencies.
"The numbers are alarming, but keep in mind, these are the ones that actually got reported," said Corey Yarborough, of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Yarborough and others said although Florida has one of the largest numbers of homeless in the country, legislators have not adopted sufficient measures to protect this vulnerable population.
The Coalition To End Homelessness estimates there are about 10,000 homeless people in Broward County. Palm Beach County has about 2,000.
Measures should include educating children about the plight of the homeless, advocates said, noting that 64 percent of the attacks were committed by youths ages 13-19.
"I don’t see this getting any better," said Marti Forman, director of the Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale.
Sean Cononie, publisher of the Homeless Voice newspaper and director of the COSAC Foundation homeless shelter in Hollywood, said authorities should classify attacks against the homeless as hate crimes with stiff penalties.
"It is clear that they are targeted, hunted and killed," he said. "Why are they not a protected class?"
One of the reported incidents was the fatal attack on Gary Fenshaw, 41, in West Palm Beach, on Aug. 8. Before he died, Fenshaw told police three people, including a juvenile, chased and beat him with a two-by-four, according to the report
Also, Bobby Klepper, 42, told police he was beaten with a baseball bat as he slept in a wooded area in Delray Beach on Nov. 27.
In Broward County, deputies charged Julio Lara, 19, with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in Dania Beach on May 13 after police say he shot a homeless man repeatedly with a paint-gun. Lara said he did it "just to have fun," according to police.
Cononie said governments that adopt measures such as making it illegal to feed the homeless and police departments that downplay the attacks send society a message dehumanizing homeless people.
He applauded the efforts of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust for creating a video about homelessness that is now shown in the county’s public schools.
"It is simple," Cononie said. "Kids learn from adults and if we teach them that the homeless are worthless individuals, then it is just OK to kill them."
(c) 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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