Violence Against The Homeless In N.M. Brings Calls For Legislation And Awareness

Aug 8, 2014

In July, the brutal murder of two homeless men in Albuquerque raised calls for violence against the homeless to be classified as a hate crime. Now, a New Mexico State Senator is working to reintroduce a bill that would make it a hate crime to bring violence against the homeless in New Mexico.

The legislation to make it a hate crime to violently target the homeless failed to pass during the last state legislative session. However, New Mexico State Senator Bill O’Neill plans to re-introduce the bill in the upcoming session.

“I was going to introduce this bill anyway, but then this horrific event in Albuquerque happened, and folks who knew about this legislation were wondering if I was going to do it again. Hopefully, this time there will be enough push to get it across the finish line,” says Senator O’Neill.

According to a 2013 Survey, The National Coalition for the Homeless released data on hate crimes and violent acts committed against the homeless by housed individuals. According to the report, last year there were 109 homeless people who were victims of violent acts with 18 losing their lives.

The survey also said that most of the victims were male and over the age of 40. The accused and convicted perpetrators where listed as male 93 percent of the time, and 48 percent of the attackers where under the age of 20.

The Mesilla Valley Community of Hope provides services in Las Cruces, and Doña Ana County to help folks get on their feet and off the streets. The service center offers an overnight camp named Camp Hope. The tent city can hold 50 homeless individuals. This alternative transitional living project is supported by different agencies in Las Cruces.

To keep the residents informed and safe, Camp Hope holds weekly conversations with a moderator to discuss issues within the camp and homeless community. It’s a way for everyone at the camp to, voice his or her concerns and find out helpful information.  

Randy Harris of The Great Conversation, has moderated the talks each week. The Great Conversation is an organization that aims to facilitate respectful and informed community dialogue. 

“It’s always a civil and respectful dialogue, and as a result of that premise and the hard work of the campers, and the staff at the Community of Hope, this camp has become a model for how to move people from homelessness to housing, jobs, reconnection with their family, and back into education,” says Harris.

At the meeting there are also former camp residents who are no longer experiencing homelessness, and are back on their feet. They attend the meeting to offer advice, information, and extra motivation to current camp residents.

Josh Dickson resides at Camp Hope; he is recently attended his first weekly conversation at the camp. Dickson says he has been homeless for seven years, and he is always paying attention to what is going on around him. He says the meeting was a great chance to offer his input.

“I liked it a lot, I was able to voice my opinion and they were very respectful,” says Dickson.

Dickson says if violence against the homeless where a hate crime, it would offer more protection and maybe it would help him worry less about people he cares about who are also homeless.

Camp Hope has a security team that meets twice a week with staff at Mesilla Valley Community of Hope to keep them informed, and there is also an updated roster of all camp members.  Executive Director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, Nicole Martinez says the updated information is a great way for her staff to always know what is happening at the camp.

“That helps us know who all is at the camp at certain times, who’s allowed to be there, and they also have a visitors sign in log. So that is helpful for us to keep tabs on who is at the camp, and who is being kept safe.” says Martinez.

Martinez says the Camp Hope Safety Team records help her efficiently talk to the right people in case any problems or issues might occur.

“I also can go out there anytime and see that they have a safety team roster that shows me who’s on duty and when. So, if there is an incident happening, I can go and talk to that person who was on duty at the time, and we have an incident report process,” says Martinez.

Martinez says Community of Hope also works with the Las Cruces Police Department on helpful ways to interact with those in the homeless community.

If Senator O’Neill’s legislation is introduced and passed during next year’s legislative session; New Mexico will join seven states along with Puerto Rico, and The District of Columbia in making it a hate crime to violently target the homeless.