LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – Three random murders – A woman was pushed in front of a train, punched another at the bus stop and the third was stabbed Anger, fear and despair have reigned with the difficult issue of homelessness in New York and Los Angeles – all done by allegedly homeless men – working alone in a store.
Advocates fear that public outrage about the crimes has put a vulnerable population at even greater risk.
Heidi Marston, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, called the killings a tragedy. But she said it was important not to blame the entire homeless community for the violence or link the homelessness epidemic to the attacks.
“It will not bring justice to the victims of these crimes,” she said.
Erik Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, said labeling all homeless, “as people we should fear, rather than pity, actually sets them up for hate crimes and vigilante violence and other abuse.” ”
Tarr and other advocates and experts say that a homeless person is more likely to be the victim of violence, especially of a fatal attack, than to be a perpetrator. The data to back up is spotty because often police departments do not include in their reports whether a person is homeless or not. One reason may be that the FBI does not ask for housing status information when it compiles data from law enforcement agencies.
The Associated Press contacted police departments in LA and New York, as well as agencies in six other major cities with significant homeless populations: Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Washington, DC, to see if They track the housing status of murder victims and suspects. All except the Los Angeles Police Department either said they don’t collect the data or need a formal records request to make it public or to determine whether it exists.
In LA, the homeless population is estimated to be 40,000, or 1% of the city’s 4 million residents. Last year, homeless people were suspects in 43 of the city’s 397 homicides, about 11%. They were victims more than twice as often – 90 deaths, about 23%. In 27 of the murders, homeless people were the victims and alleged perpetrators.
Over the past five years, the percentage of LA homicides in which a homeless person was a suspect ranged from 6.5% to 12.9%, according to an Associated Press analysis of LAPD data. Yet the frequency of cases where a homeless person died was 10% in 2017 and has increased every year since then.
With rare exceptions, the murder of a homeless person receives little attention, while murders in which they are alleged suspects often make headlines.
The executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, Donald H. “People’s deaths must be significant,” Whitehead Jr. said. “We must grieve the loss of life, whether the person is in a suite in an executive building or if they are in a camp because they are homeless.”
National Coalition for the Homeless Tracks Violent Hate Crimes Against Homeless People Using media reports and information from homelessness advocates and service providers, an imperfect system that does not capture all incidents.
“We need to do better when it comes to compassion for the homeless,” Whitehead said. “According to the general public, who cares if someone dies in the camp?”
Random attacks in New York and Los Angeles garnered national media attention and sparked an outcry for the victims. The first two happened on January 13.
Sandra Shales, a 70-year-old nurse who was on her way to work, was waiting at a downtown LA bus stop early in the morning when she was punched and fell to the ground, breaking her skull. Across town, 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, was stabbed to death because she worked alone in a furniture store.
Two days later in New York, Michelle Gow, a 40-year-old woman working at a consulting firm, was pushed in front of a subway at Times Square station.
Sister of man accused of killing Gow told The New York Post He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and the condition worsened after the death of his mother more than two decades ago. A judge ordered the defendant, 61-year-old Marshall Simon, to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Kerry Bell (48) and Sean Laval Smith (31) are charged with the murders of Shales and Kupfer, respectively. Both will remain in jail before appearing in court next month and have yet to file a petition. It was not clear whether he had lawyers who could speak on his behalf.
Kupfer’s family said in a statement recently read aloud by a city councilor, “It’s not only about bringing the man who brought this crime to justice, but at its core, Making the community safe and making sure this never happens again.” the seminar. The statement did not mention whether Smith, who was yet to be identified as the alleged perpetrator at the time, was out of the house.
Simon, Bell and Smith are listed as Black in online prison records. According to one report, black or indigenous people are more represented in the homeless population than the general population of the country. by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
People who identify as black or African American make up 39% of all homeless people, yet they make up 12% of the US population. Indigenous peoples, including Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, make up only 1% of the country’s population, but they count as 5% of all immigrants.
Although officials have not specifically blamed mental illness for any of the attacks, at least 20% of the country’s homeless population, which comprises nearly a quarter of California’s non-domesticated residents. and 17% of New York, Have a serious mental illness, according to the January 2020 count of homeless people by HUD.
“Current mental health facilities in the city and LA County are streets,” said Los Angeles city councilor and mayoral candidate Kevin De Leon.
LAPD chief Michelle Moore said leaders needed to focus on supportive housing rather than law enforcement: “These statistics, these talking lives, mental health, substance abuse[and]housing.”
Before Go’s murder, the administration of newly installed New York Mayor Eric Adams announced plans to increase police officers in the subway and reach out to homeless people to tackle “real crime” and “the perception of crime.”
This came after Adams boarded the subway Said on his first day in the office and after, “I felt insecure. I saw homelessness everywhere. People were shouting on the trains. There was a sense of chaos. ,
In the United States, one out of every four According to HUD calculations, there are approximately 580,000 homeless people in New York City or Los Angeles.
In California, 160,000 people remain homeless despite unprecedented spending in recent years to get people off the streets. Governor Gavin Newsom proposes another $2 billion to top record $12 billion In last year’s budget for the Homeless Initiative.
Newsom, a Democrat, has also promised legislation to make it easier to get mental health protection. Which will force homeless and mentally ill people for treatment and housing.
During the pandemic, he also programmed that 50,000 homeless people were placed in temporary housing over the past year and some 8,000 were converted into permanent housing.
LA County Director of Mental Health Dr. Jonathan Sherin said those efforts are band-aids for a problem that has been growing for decades. He said the goal should be to obtain federal resources and create a community of respectable housing with easy access to treatment and providers.
“Give people the opportunity to get off the road and live in a safe, secure, prosperous environment,” Sherin said.
Fassett reported from Oakland, Calif. Associated Press journalist Chris Webber in Los Angeles, Michael R. Sisak and Jenny Haar in Santa Clara, California contributed.