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Yes, It Could Happen Here

It was only a couple of months ago that Metroland reported that a local alcoholic and sometimes-homeless man, Dean Constantine Martin, had been beaten up by a roving gang of youths [Newsfront, March 14]. According to Martin, over the course of several months, he had been assaulted and beaten up on the streets three or four times. Unfortunately for him, he said, few people took his complaints that he was in danger very seriously—not neighbors, business owners or even the police.

“I’m not safe on Lark Street anymore,” he said at the time. “And it’s not just me. A lot of my friends get assaulted, too. And not just bums, either.”

What Martin experienced locally, the National Coalition for the Homeless is now corroborating nationally. The organization, a nonprofit involved in organizing and advocacy to end homelessness, released a report this week that indicates that hate crimes and violence against the homeless are on the rise nationwide. According to HATE: A Report of Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless People in the United States 2001, in 29 cities observed, 79 violent assaults and crimes were committed against homeless individuals. Of those violent attacks, 18 resulted in deaths. Over the course of the past three years, the organization found, 110 homeless people were murdered—and all the murders were committed by non-homeless individuals. For example, in Paterson, N.J., a homeless man was murdered by a mob of high school boys. In Cambridge, Mass., a 22-year-old woman was stabbed and thrown into the Charles River. In New York City, a man was drenched with gasoline and set on fire. And in Ventura, Calif., an Army veteran was beaten to death in his sleeping bag.

Stories of violence against homeless people—particularly vulnerable due to the fact that they have few or no safe places to retreat to—are being reported in increasing numbers by shelter workers, even in Albany. Shortly after Martin’s story appeared in Metroland, the Times Union reported that police were investigating the death of Christopher Nieckarz, a 39-year-old homeless man found dead on the back porch of a Grand Street apartment. He had allegedly been “jumped” the night before he died; he died as a result of a severe blow to the head.

And Martin found himself the victim once again of a potentially dangerous attack by kids who had it out for him: He was in the vicinity of Washington Park, and he was trying to find refuge from the harassment. He tried to seek help at a local business, but to no avail. So he resorted to making a racket to draw attention to himself. He got the attention he wanted—that of the Albany police, who arrested him for his disruptive behavior.

—Erin Sullivan


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