Back in the early 1990s, at my first job out of college, I worked with a group of three guys who were big Rush Limbaugh fans. Their favorite segment was “Homeless Update.” Given this was Rush, who was One of the Worst Humans of All Time, the “Update” was a festival of cruelty. These guys lapped it up.
They also mocked me and others in my office for being nice to a homeless man who set up shop near our office’s entrance in downtown Pittsburgh and stood quietly while holding a can for money. He was a Black man missing a leg and always had a pleasant smile when you talked to him. We didn’t know much about him other than he lived at a nearby shelter. We never found out how he lost his leg. We just knew he was a nice human being, who often looked like he had the weight of the world on him before you said hello and his smile would return.
The Rush boys joked about stealing his crutches to make him hop around. That was hilarious to them. They also talked about how fun it would be if they opened up hunting season on the homeless. The sad thing is, they were far from the only ones in America who felt that way.
It seemed like starting in the 1980s, homeless hate became more common. Reagan, who started the Republican Party on its march to cruelty for cruelty’s sake, had an influence that extended well after he was no longer president. But Rush, likely the most popular right-wing pundit in American history, helped to spread the meanness like a disease.
So, hate against the homeless has been around for a long time, but over the last several years, it seems to be increasing. Related: Violence against these fellow human beings is also on the rise. This post is, of course, inspired by the horrific killing this week of a homeless man who was having a mental health crisis on a New York City subway car. But it is not the only recent high-profile case of violence against homeless people. Another example is former San Francisco Fire Department Commissioner Don Carmignani getting his ass beat by a homeless person with a metal pipe.
Sounds horrible, right? Yes, it was. Garmignani’s hobby was bear-spraying homeless people and he went after the wrong homeless guy, apparently. San Francisco has a reputation for being very liberal but it is also growing a reputation as home to a bunch of wealthy tech assholes who deeply hate homeless people. When one of their own, Bob Lee, the founder of Cash App, was tragically murdered, many wealthy tech bros including Professional Asshole Elon Musk rushed to blame San Francisco’s homeless population. Turns out, he was killed by one of his own.
This level of anger is aimed at people who are in a situation that they can mostly not help. They suffer from mental illness, addiction, or way too often, cannot find affordable housing. Violence against them is described as a “hidden epidemic” by the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, violence against homeless people is increasing. In 2020, there were 156 reported attacks on homeless individuals, and 36 of those attacks resulted in death. This represents a 7% increase in attacks from the previous year, and a 26% increase in deaths.
This makes the reaction to the NYC subway killing even more chilling. The death is disturbing enough, but in its aftermath, there are furious debates about whether homeless people should just be outright murdered.
The Associated Press offered up this, which seemed to imply killing a human being is “defense against disorder.” They have since deleted the Tweet.
In a non-shithole country, we would be discussing solutions to mental illness and homelessness. From the link I posted previously in this post from the University of California San Francisco:
“These recent violent events have generated concern and compassion for the victims. Yet, we owe it to all people who experience homelessness to recognize that, while there may have been an isolated perpetrator for the most recent attacks, these were not isolated events. These events are an extreme example of violence against people without housing that takes place every day. This everyday violence is, in part, spurred by false narratives that stoke fear and frame people who are homeless as aggressors. We must reject those narratives and recognize that, instead, they are our friends, family, and neighbors who have been left behind by the housing shortage, lack of funding for rental assistance for low-income renters, and the ongoing effects of structural racism.
Until we create the political will to invest in solving homelessness, we need to look directly at the dangers our neighbors without homes face and reject solutions that sweep people out of sight or criminalize behaviors of people merely trying to survive. Housing ends homelessness. And, as shown in our research, immediately reduces the risk of violence. True community safety will arise only when we end homelessness—not because it will protect housed Americans from their unhoused neighbors, but because it will protect those who are homeless from the everyday violence impacting their lives.”
But instead, we are really doing this whole “is it okay to legally kill homeless people?” debate, aren’t we? I have heard before that a big difference between America and many places in Europe is in America, if we see a homeless person we instantly wonder how that person failed themselves, and in Europe if they see a homeless person they instantly wonder how the state failed that person.
Certain people’s lives really do not mean shit to a lot of people in this country. No wonder a movement like Black Lives Matter took hold here. Maybe it is because of where I grew up and currently live (around poverty) and maybe it is because of how I was raised, or both, but I cannot comprehend looking at an American problem and thinking the best solution is killing people who are suffering.
The last word goes to G. Love and Special Sauce with special guest Jasper, with a very powerful tune about homelessness.