Like so many others in this community, all of us at the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness were horrified and saddened to learn that two homeless men were brutally murdered in Albuquerque recently.
Our member organizations hear stories every day about the violence that homeless people face. People living without homes are highly vulnerable and are often the victims of violence. Sometimes they are targeted just because they are experiencing homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that in 2013 that were 109 reported hate crimes committed against people experiencing homelessness. This is the tip of the iceberg since most such crimes go unreported.
We all know that one of the best ways we can prevent such acts of violence is to help people experiencing homelessness obtain safe, affordable housing and the supports and services they need to keep that housing. And while we are developing this housing we could also add additional protections for those who are currently homeless by making violence against homeless people punishable as a hate crime.
The solution is straightforward, but building the community and political will necessary to create an adequate supply of housing and services is a more complicated task. Part of building that will is overcoming the mistaken belief among policy-makers and the general public that many people “choose” to be homeless and that housing is a privilege to be earned. We believe that everyone has a right to safe housing regardless of their situation in life.
This recent tragedy strengthens our resolve to advocate for long-term solutions to homelessness, and to advocate for the local, state and federal governments to invest in these solutions.
In the short term we call on the State Legislature and the Governor to enact a law that includes homeless people as a class of people protected by the New Mexico Hate Crimes Statute. Doing so would add enhanced penalties to criminals that target people simply because they are homeless. This action would also be a powerful affirmation from the government that the lives and well being of people who are homeless are important and deserve protection.
People who are homeless need extra protection while they are homeless, and more supportive housing options to help them exit homelessness more quickly. Our hope is that terrible, tragic event will propel our community towards creating more permanent supportive housing, and to enacting the needed protections to prevent future tragedies.