November 8, 2006

Teen Violence Against Homeless Increases

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The show is called “Bum Hunts,” and it is a spin-off of the popular “Bumfights” video series. Armed with duct tape and a fake Australian accent, an actor called the Bumhunter, parodies Steve Irwin of “Crocodile Hunter” fame by chasing, tackling and restraining unsuspecting homeless people.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the Bumhunter is a reflection of a growing trend of brutality against the homeless population.

A February 2006 report from NCH titled “Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA” states that 86 violent acts were committed against homeless people, 13 of which resulted in death last year, and the trend continues to increase. In the first nine months of this year, 17 out of 100 attacks reported resulted in death, and teenagers are the majority of those charged for these crimes.

John Ward, director of homeless services for Tompkins County American Red Cross, said that he is unaware of a recent violence surge against people living on the streets of Ithaca.

“From time to time someone will come to our daytime drop-in center and say they got beat up or robbed on the street, but with some incidents we can’t tell if they actually got assaulted or just want money,” Ward said. “The homeless tend to either not report incidents, or it just isn’t happening here.”

According to Prof. Rolf Pendall, city and regional planning, there is a severe poverty problem in Ithaca even though it is not as visible as homelessness in inner cities.

“As documented yearly by the Red Cross in its Continuum of Care documents, the homeless population grew dramatically between the mid-1990s and 2003,” he said. “Given the ongoing lack of affordable housing in Ithaca, I can’t imagine homelessness has declined since then.”

Some Cornell students do not acknowledge a significant homelessness problem in Ithaca or violence against them because of their lack of visibility near campus.

“You don’t see that many homeless people in Collegetown,” Usman Chaudhry ’07 said. “Maybe on the south-side of Ithaca in more poverty stricken areas, but even in the Commons, it doesn’t seem prevalent.”

Jason Beekman ’08 said homeless people in Ithaca blend into the background of the Ithaca community.

“I can’t believe there is a rise in crime against the homeless. You know, there are always those two or three guys in Collegetown, but I feel like people know them,” he said.

Although, Ithaca’s homeless are not as vulnerable to the growing number of violent attacks as others cities, acts committed elsewhere are suddenly reaching the radar of the media. Last month, four 15-year-olds were charged as adults with attempted murder for the January beating and stabbing of a homeless man in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The high profile case caught the attention of the CBS show 60 Minutes, who produced an expose on the “Bumfights” video series last month and how they have inspired “joy killing” among teens.

“If [homeless beatings] have not been defined as a social problem by the media, it is not surprising that the broader public is not overly concerned about this,” Prof. Sarah Soule, sociology, said. “Unfortunately, the American public seems to be distracted easily by issues promoted in the media as ‘suddenly pressing.’”

Even if major news outlets are only recently following homeless attacks more closely, the Internet has welcomed coverage if only just for entertainment. Teens have been videotaping and posting footage from beatings on websites like Ebaum’s World. Complete episodes of “Bum Hunts” are accessible through YouTube.

Beekman said it is important for students to address the trend as it speaks to the mindset of the current generation.

“This reflects the increased restlessness of youth and people releasing stress in stupid ways,” he said. “This goes beyond the homeless, and there must be a connection between this and other trends of violence in our generation.”