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Hating on the homeless: Is a new type of crime emerging in Kelowna?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 | 8:30 am

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By John McDonald

Opinion

A gay man is insulted and then beaten by a group of men at a local gas station. A transgendered woman is chased across the highway by two teens who yell threatening insults at her. A homeless couple, sleeping outside, have a bucket of paint poured over them by some young men. On Sunday, a group of men beat and kick a homeless man senseless in what the victim says was an unprovoked attack.

All these incidents happened here in Kelowna in the last couple of years, but the last two bear the hallmarks of an emerging type of crime increasingly seen in cities across North America; attacking the homeless for no apparent reason.

Without knowing what was going through the attacker’s misguided heads – police have yet to make an arrest – it’s impossible to know why the men beat the 41-year-old man.

But he’s not yet talking, and has so far told police that his concern lay around the fact that nobody jumped in to help him during the beating, which happened in a very public place, or even bothered to phone 911.

As reprehensible as that is, it pales somewhat behind the notion that the man could have taken a boot-stomping because of his place in the world; a homeless bottle-picker, who by all accounts just wanted to be left alone.

Kelowna RCMP spokesman Const. Steve Holmes was a little surprised at the question, but reached the same conclusion I did; without an arrest and an opportunity to determine motive, it’s impossible to know just what made them go off on their victim.

I reached John Richardson, executive director of the Vancouver-based PIVOT Legal Society, at his office late yesterday afternoon. It was near closing time, but Richardson was glad to talk at length about the issue.

“It’s a very interesting question,” Richardson told me. “Homeless people arouse extreme emotions in some people because of what they seem to represent. Failure, addiction, poverty.”

Richardson points to the case last fall of a man who made the mistake of passing out on an old couch after night of drinking near Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. He awoke to find himself in flames, after three men poured some kind of flammable liquid on him and set it alight.

“The only thing that seemed to distinguish him is that he was sleeping outside, which could be interpreted as being homeless,” Richardson said.

Hate crimes tend to revolve around appearance or location. Your skin colour or the fact that you just came out of a gay bar can be all it takes to invite a smack-down from your local racist or homophobe.

Homeless people blend in quite well, unless they are pushing around a shopping cart or sleeping in a doorway, but those indicators seem to be all it took to incite homeless attacks here and other places.

Richardson says that’s enough, in his view, to raise a simple assault to something more sinister. “If I see a homeless person, and I don’t know who they are, and I attack them because of something I project on them, in that sense it meets the definition of a hate crime.”

Vancover police said later there was no evidence that the man burned while sleeping on the couch was targeted because his attackers thought he was homeless, but Richardson said he would be happy to see one of these types of incidents aimed at homeless person prosecuted at a higher level as a hate crime. “It would sure send a powerful message,” he added.

john@kelowna.com

250-575-0521

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4 Responses to “Hating on the homeless: Is a new type of crime emerging in Kelowna?”

  1. Mary says:
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    It is easy to look down on the poor and the homeless and blame them for the problems in our society. We have been taught to look down and bash the poor, the homeless and the disabled because it is easier to do than actually look at issues such as the unequal distribution of wealth in the world. Look at all the corporate welfare that is out there and there is not as much compalining when that happens. That money normally does not even get paid back.
    it is easier to spend tax money on building a bigger stadium or pay for olympics than look after the vulnerable in our society.

    “There is much suffering in the world – physical, material, mental. The suffering of some can be blamed on the greed of others. The material and physical suffering is suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases. But the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted, unloved and uncared for that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.”
    – Mother Teresa

  2. Brandon says:
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    @Mary…The distribution of wealth usually isn’t the problem. It is the homeless persons USE of the wealth they have when they have it. It is often poor money management.

  3. Mary says:
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    Brandon,
    That is quite an assumption to make. In this province alone we have had all kinds of cuts to social services. I am sure with a few there is poor money management but there are many others who might not have family or have mental illnesses or even alcohol and drug addictions.

    Lets not just put them all in one group all cases are different. I think it is easier for you to say that it is poor money management.

    I think as time goes by we will see more and more of this. The rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. We are also losing our middle class.Some people might even be just one pay cheque away from homelessness.

  4. Phil says:
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    @Brandon

    I agree and disagree with you, yes we are responsible for what we do with our income but at the same time it is very easy to get into a bad situation and not being able to come out of it.

    This may be due to education, sickness, economy you name it. Over the last couple of months i have met some people who are in situations they never thought they could find themselfs in.

    Some lost their houses and can barely afford an apartment some lost their jobs and now CANT afford their apartments. It has little to do in this case with their money management. Many of them had low income jobs and with the loss they have very little or no savings to speak of to begin with. Sure you say its education they could have strived for a higher paying job but you know what ask the person that is a caretaker, server, baker, etc if they love their job and many will tell you that they love to work with people and help and support them. This good heart and intention is what many times makes a community but it seems that when they fall out of luck that community rather seems to want to forget than aid those in help.

    Reflection is needed by all of us. I have no hard time to think about me loosing everything because nowadays it is very easy, get sick, invest poorly, have an accident, be divorced, have a child that is sick… There are many factors that can easily change your life and most of the times not for the better.

    Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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