Of more than 142 unprovoked attacks on homeless people in 2007, the most – at least 32 – were in Florida, according to a preliminary count by the coalition and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Nationwide, such attacks rose about 65 percent from 2005.
In Fort Lauderdale a group of teenagers captured national attention in 2006 when a surveillance camera caught one laughing as he beat a homeless man with a baseball bat. The teenagers attacked three homeless men that night and face a murder trial in one man’s death. A year later in Daytona Beach, a 17-year-old and two 10-year-olds attacked a homeless Army veteran. One 10-year-old dropped a cement block on the man’s face, the police said.
“What could possibly be in the mind of a 10- or 12-year-old that would possess them to pick up a rock and pick up a brick and beat another human being in the head?” said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. “It defies any rational thought process, but it’s also why we felt so strongly we had to do something.”
The trust has teamed with the local schools to develop a curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools teaching respect for the homeless.
Advocates for the homeless blame a society that they say shuns the homeless through laws that criminalize sleeping in parks, camping and begging.
“I think it reflects a lack of respect for the homeless that has reached such extreme proportions that homeless people aren’t viewed as people,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.