These things become the norm: that some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. In contrast, a ten-point drop in the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy.
Twenty Years of Hate, a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless (2020), outlines 39 lethal attacks and the 44 non-lethal attacks on unhoused people that occurred in 2018 and 2019 throughout the United States. An earlier report, No safe street (2016), found that in the previous 17 years at least 1,657 people experiencing homelessness were the victims of violence perpetrated for the sole reason that they were unhoused at the time. This number included 428 men and women who lost their lives.
Cause or Effect or Both?
- Youth, single adults, and families who become homeless are often survivors of domestic violence. For many, it is the primary cause of their homelessness.
- Homelessness increases vulnerability to violence and victimization
- Extreme need contributes to survival sex, the practice of trading sex for food, a place to sleep, or other basic needs, or for drugs.
- Unsheltered people often have no access to safe drinking water or sanitation services, and encampments are commonly established along the sides of streams and rivers.
- Poorly situated encampments contribute to environmental hazards including erosion, loss of native vegetation, debris accumulation, loss of wildlife habitat, destruction of community commons/green space, and bacterial contamination of waterways that are close to campsites or fed by storm drains that receive greywater from camps.
- Unsheltered people suffer from exposure to environmental hazards including soil and water contamination, air and noise pollution, and exposure to severe weather events.
- People who are homeless have higher rates of illness and die on average 12 years sooner than the general U.S. population.
- Poor health is a major cause of homelessness
Beyond issues of vulnerability to violence and lack of basic needs, homelessness is closely connected to declines in physical and mental health; homeless persons experience high rates of trauma and health problems such as HIV infection, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, tuberculosis, and other conditions.
What Can We Do About Safety and Health?
- Create more safe places to sleep (with access to services, hygiene facilities and garbage receptacles):
- “Safe parking” and “safe tent” sites, provide options for individuals to legally park their vehicles or sleep in tents.
- RV parks specifically for people who live full-time in RVs
- Create more safe places to carry out everyday activities
- Urban Rest Stops offer safe and welcoming places where unsheltered people can come and use restrooms, laundry facilities and showers.
- Day Centers, like New Hope and CCS Family Day Center, offer similar services for specific populations
- Offer easily accessible medical care including street medic programs. Demand affordable universal healthcare as a key strategy for prevention and mitigation of homelessness.
- Learn about – and help raise public awareness about- safety issues that face unsheltered people. Advocate for measures that reduce violence and victimization
- Participate in National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day which takes place each year on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice (usually December 21st).
- Join Chaplain Ed Jacobs for memorial services in memory of people who died homeless in Pierce County
More about Safety and Homelessness
- Common trust and personal safety issues: A systematic review on the acceptability of health and social interventions for persons with lived experience of homelessness (2019)
- Homelessness as a Public Health Law Issue: Selected Resources (CDC; 2017)
Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.