As horrific attacks against homeless people continue to make the news, advocates in New Mexico are organizing to add homeless people as a protected class in the state’s hate crimes legislation. The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, will be working with its 65 member organizations and North Albuquerque State Senator Bill O’Neill (D) to build support for this goal in the State Legislature, which meets for a 60-day session in early 2015.
“The best way to prevent violence against homeless people is to provide safe, affordable housing, and the supports and services that people need to keep that housing,” said Hank Hughes, Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Until we have enough housing for everyone, this is one step the state can take to help make homeless people safer.”
Senator O’Neill introduced a bill in 2013 to include homelessness status in the state’s hate crimes law, but it failed to pass before the end of the legislative session. Senator O’Neill intends to reintroduce his bill when the legislature returns.
The urgency for this campaign is fueled by recent tragedy. On Saturday, July 26, two homeless individuals were beaten to death and left in a field outside of Albuquerque. Three teenagers were later arrested and charged. One of those charged said that he and his friends had previously beaten approximately 50 other homeless people, according to The Washington Post.
Increased vulnerability to violent attacks is one of the many difficulties faced by those who cannot find safe, affordable housing. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there were 109 violent acts against homeless people throughout 2013.
If advocates are successful, New Mexico will become the eighth state to include homelessness in a hate crimes statute. Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington have increased penalties for crimes against homeless people. In New Mexico, up to two years are added to a prison sentence when an act is deemed to be a hate crime.
For more information contact Hank Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Washington Post article is at http://wapo.st/1u79mus