Saturday, a 67-year-old homeless woman remained in critical condition after she was doused in a flammable liquid, reportedly rubbing alcohol, and set ablaze during the early-morning hours of Thursday, Dec. 27., in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles. The week before that, a 55-year-old homeless man in Norwalk was severely injured after he was burned outside a doughnut shop.
According to figures provided by the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 1999 and 2010 there were 1,184 acts of violence committed against homeless people in the U.S. resulting in 312 deaths. In 2010, the coalition ranked California No. 1 for the most number of “hate crimes against the homeless,” with 225 incidents occuring throughout these 12 years. Florida follows at No. 2 with 198 incidents, as originally reported by Southern California Public Radio.
According to the coalition, these states may have the most frequent attacks because of their warm temperatures make it easier to live outside. But living out in the open can make the homeless easier targets for hate crimes.
Attacks on homeless include beatings, rapes, assaults with deadly weapons, shootings, exploitation and harassment. In 2010, one percent of these acts of violence involved a homeless person being set ablaze. Most attacks are “motivated by the perpetrators’ bias against homeless individuals or their ability to target homeless people with relative ease.” The coalition says most of this violence is committed by men under the age of 30.
In Thursday’s Van Nuys 1 a.m. attack outside a Walgreens drug store at the intersection of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way, police arrested 24-year-old Dennis Petillo and booked him on charges of attempted murder.
And according to a report from the coalition, titled “The State of Homelessness in America 2012,” California has more than 130,000 homeless people; compared with New York’s 63,000 and Florida’s 57,000 homeless.
“As long as they’re sleeping on the sidewalk, they’re always going to be susceptible to robberies and things like that,” LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, a 14-year veteran of working on Skid Row — which has L.A.’s densest homeless population — told a reporter recently.
Friday, on the bench at the bus stop on the southwest corner at the intersection of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way, was a makeshift memorial to the woman known as “Violet,” the victim of Thursday’s attack. Among the candles, crosses and flowers was a placard. On it were the handwritten words: “Everyone deserves love. These things happen when politicians care more about giving millionaires tax cuts than taking care of human beings. Wake up and fund the helpers, not the Scrooges.”