By: Tim Houchen
July 1, 2019 —
As the numbers of visibly homeless persons grows in Southern California, so does the frustration of residents in our communities most impacted by homelessness. As the frustration increases, so does a malevolent chorus of discord among some residents who are contributing to a growing diatribe of hatred towards persons experiencing homelessness.
And it is complicating solutions.
This growing hate can be witnessed in public protests from NIMBY’s every time a proposed location for a homeless shelter is established. We see it in the comments section of online news articles. Social media discussions are becoming a “front line” where homeless advocates battle hate speech and contradiction of known best-practices for ending homelessness. Public groups on Facebook created for discussing solutions are often sacked by public suggestions of incarceration, regional displacement and even mass annihilation.
Even more troublesome is the willingness of our society to accept rather than rebuke hate speech directed at homeless persons as normal behavior. Hateful speech is one thing, but more and more physical acts of violence are being perpetrated against homeless persons. Could it be that society’s contempt for homelessness is nudging the standards of acceptable hate speech towards hateful acts of physical violence against homeless persons carried out by homeless hate extremists?
This culture of hate must be dispelled. The process of eliminating hate for persons experiencing homelessness must begin in our communities. Our elected leaders and other officials are sworn to serve and protect our citizens equally whether they are housed or unhoused.
Lack of political will and perhaps personal bias of public officials towards homeless individuals is a contributing factor that influences the public perception of homelessness. What our leaders do and say sends signals to the public. We look to our leaders for guidance on social issues and often times we base our opinions on trust in their opinions. The messages sent by our local officials are influencing public opinion and are conflicting solutions to end homelessness in our communities.
While some positive steps have been taken to address homelessness recently in Orange County, there are still too many ways that our county and cities continue to dehumanize homeless persons by creating and enforcing laws that criminalize their homeless status. These laws place restrictions on sitting, sleeping and storing personal property in public spaces and encourage the belief that homeless persons are not human, and are unworthy of respect.
When dozens of sheriff’s deputies converge on a homeless encampment in full riot gear to evict homeless persons who have nowhere to go except the streets, the message sent to the public says, “Homeless people are dangerous criminals and are not worthy of living in our city.”
When a public official, whether it be a city council member or county supervisor, attends a town hall meeting on homelessness and is met by a hostile crowd, fomenting hatred and ranting suggestions of vigilantism and the use of force against homeless people, as has happened in the past. If that particular public official does not publicly denounce the actions there and then, in fact, doesn’t say a word, then they send a message that says, “I’m with you, brothers. Let’s gather our torches, pitchforks and AK-47’s and let’s get those lousy homeless bastards out of our city.”
On November 22, 2018, a man extradited from Arizona was sentenced to just three years behind bars for fatally stabbing a homeless man, Roy Thomas Emming, in Santa Ana in 1984. John William Zelinski, accepted a plea deal and was released one week later after getting credit for time served while he was awaiting trial. In this case one must ask, “is the value of a homeless life less than that of someone who is not homeless?”
It is a grave concern that some of our leaders have created a toxic environment that could be used by some members of the public as internal justification for facilitating violent attacks against homeless people.
Will the time come when a sick and twisted member of our society commits a most vicious and violent attack on homeless persons while thinking he is doing our society a favor, or has that time already arrived?
Beginning in 2011 and into 2012, a serial killer took the lives of four homeless men in Orange County. After his arrest the killer gave a detailed confession to Anaheim police investigators. Watch the video below and see why he killed the homeless men.
We are at a critical point in our efforts to end homelessness. Our Federal and State governments now share a common strategy of how homelessness can be ended. A brisk economy has allowed more funding than ever to be allocated to solutions.
Our communities must embrace a more collaborative effort and local governments need to align with other layers of government for the best results and we must embrace the “Housing First” philosophy in order to address visible homelessness in our communities.
There are still many people that are undecided on the issue of ending homelessness and homeless advocates are trying to relay a message of hope for homeless persons and for communities impacted by homelessness. Hate speech and rhetoric is interfering with the efforts of many homeless advocates to deliver the message of solutions that would benefit us all.
Many of our local governments accept State and Federal funding to end homelessness, but our officials fail to adequately support the strategies publicly, in fact they openly oppose them. These officials are sending the wrong messages to the public and are influencing the contempt for persons experiencing homelessness as a result.
It’s time to fight back against the hate that is preventing solutions and it’s time for more serious conversation about solutions without nasty, hateful and negative rhetoric. Please support the strategies adopted by our State and Federal governments.