Living the Nightmare
For most of us, fear for our physical safety is not something we have to think about daily. Perhaps when we are walking across a dark parking lot at night, or when we hear of a disturbing crime on television we then become fearful. But then we lock our doors, arm our security systems, shut our curtains and return to our feelings of safety. While this should be a right afforded to everyone – the right to be free from harm – it is a luxury for those who are homeless.
Recent statistics show that over 62% of those who are homeless have witnessed a violent attack on another homeless individual. The definition of “violent attack” for this statistic was the use of force by an individual against a homeless individual to intentionally cause physical, sexual or psychological harm (Springer, 2018). Fifty-six percent of those involved in this research had witnessed at least 3 violent attacks against another homeless individual.
Another recent statistic shows that 49% of homeless will experience a violent attack themselves, with 72% of these experiencing multiple attacks during the duration of their time being homeless. Where is the most dangerous place for a homeless individual? On the street, as statistics show that 58% of violent attacks against the homeless take place on a street. Sixteen percent of violent attacks take place in public parks and 13% take place in homeless shelters. Many of us have homes, friends, our work, and other places we can go to in order to feel safe. For the homeless, statistics show that there is no where that is safe. The risk of violence is everywhere, at any time, and the means of protection are few and far between.
Though on average, 16% of those who are attacked are not injured, 58% sustain significant bruising. Thirty percent report an attack that left psychological effects while 13% sustain head injuries. Of those taking part in research, 15% reported being sexually assaulted while other victims report broken teeth, being stabbed, and sustaining broken bones. Again, when many of us sustain injuries in one way or another, when we are hurting and in pain, we have the comfort of our home to return to in order to rest and recover. For those who are homeless, this is just a dream. The reality for them is that they still need to find a place to sleep, they still need to find a way to eat. There is no comfort, no loving hands to make the hurts better and often no medical or psychological treatment at all. They simply continue on, the fear of another attack never far away. For those participating in this research, after they were attacked 60% sought help at the emergency room, 30% went to the police and 30% sought assistance at a free clinic. Of those who sought assistance, 80% did not receive it.
Imagine for a moment that while walking to your car one night you are brutally attacked. You are battered, bloody and bruised. You are confused and scared and in pain. The only thing you want, is help. Now imagine that you call your best friend…and they turn you away. You go to the emergency room, in enormous pain and frightened, and they turn you away as well. You now go to a clinic and they turn you away. You are bleeding and frightened and in pain. You have no idea where your attacker is or if they will do it again. You have no way to clean yourself up and no way to fix the injuries. There is no time for comfort or healing; there is no respite from the fear. For now, you have to find someplace to sleep tonight where you hope your attacker will not find you again.
There is nothing easy about life on the streets. People do not choose to be battered and bloodied. Yet this is the reality for those who find themselves on the street. When you encounter these individuals, do not add to their pain. Be a healing element. We cannot fix the enormous problem pf violence that faces the homeless community, but we can act as a small bandage on the wounds. Offer a smile. Say hello. Ask them how they are. Offer a bottle of water. Say “good morning”. Do not be another attacker that they must face. Be a healer. Be a reminder that they are people and they have the same right as the rest of us to be safe and free of harm.
National Care for the Homeless Council (2018). Victims and violence. Retrieved from: https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/vv-29-1_ptr_a8_122-136.pdf