During the 2011 state legislative session, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), an NLIHC state coalition partner, led advocates in support of SB11-004, the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless bill sponsored by Senator Lucia Guzman and Representative Dan Pabon. Advocates included CCH, the Harm Reduction Action Center, Urban Peak, Denver Department of Human Services, Denver’s Road Home and an online community of 35 organizations.
The legislation, which would have added “homeless status” into the state’s bias-motivated crimes statute, also known as the hate crimes statute, passed the state Senate with bipartisan support but failed on a party-line vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Currently, Colorado’s bias-motivated crimes statute includes protections for victims of crimes motivated by race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation and physical or mental disability prejudices. Colorado would have been the third state to enact such a law, following successful legislation in Maryland and Florida.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 1999 and 2009 Colorado ranked 5th in the number of hate crimes and acts of violence committed against the homeless, following California, Florida, Texas and Ohio. There were a total of 47 violent offenses against the homeless during this time period in Colorado, with 22 crimes resulting in the death of a homeless individual. Offenders are often thrill-seeking juveniles or young adults committing offenses ranging from harassment to brutal crimes such as decapitation.
B.J. Iacino, Director of Education and Advocacy at CCH, testified in the Judiciary and Finance Committee hearings in the Senate, and the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing. She gave a national and state overview of the issue, including media depictions and public perceptions related to homelessness and resulting bias crimes, and the symbolic effect the legislation would have on reducing the stigma of homelessness. A homeless individual testifying in support of the bill referenced animal cruelty laws and asked, “Don’t I deserve the same protections as a dog?”
“Crimes against the homeless are of a prejudicial quality unlike more commonplace crimes and deserve greater penalties. National reports have documented over a thousand crimes committed with prejudice against America’s homeless community over the past decade. Homeless murders are about double that of all those within other protected groups combined,” Ms. Iacino testified. While the legislation did not ultimately succeed, it played a significant role in fostering discussions related to homelessness at a time when social services were not popular issues among Colorado’s lawmakers.
“These crimes also result in greater physical abuse; they tend to be excessively brutal,” said Meg Costello, Public Policy Manager with CCH. “To live on the streets or to bounce from shelter to shelter is to live in a constant state of severe trauma. Without the safety of a home to go to, one becomes a sitting duck for some of the ugliest crimes you can imagine. Crimes of this nature deserve enhanced penalties under the law because hate crimes have a wider impact than ordinary crimes. Hate crimes affect not only the victim, but all members of the victim’s group. We are glad to have legislators talking about this important issue and will continue working to ensure those without homes are protected to the fullest extent of the law.”
For more information contact Meg Costello, Public Policy Manager, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, firstname.lastname@example.org