Report Shows Rising Violence Against Homeless People

violence against homeless people is on the rise ... again

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

The National Coalition for the Homeless’ latest report reveals a significant rise in targeted violence against homeless individuals, with 97 attacks between 2019 and 2022, 48% of which were fatal. This alarming trend highlights the consequences of criminalizing homelessness.

Criminalization Has Consequences, and Unhoused People Pay the Price

The National Coalition for the Homeless has been documenting violence against homeless people for the past 23 years. Over that time, they’ve recorded over 2,000 separate incidents, with at least 588 of them being fatal. Their newest report, published in May, shows a worrying uptick in targeted violence against homeless people, particularly with attacks involving law enforcement personnel and serial attackers.

This is the grim result of a culture desperate to vilify unhoused people to spare themselves a bit of discomfort. Othering and dehumanization lead to not only violence but also attackers who feel justified in carrying out violence against homeless people as a way of “cleaning up the streets.”

Key Findings

This year’s report covers a 3-year period ranging from 2019 to 2022. In that time, 97 acts of targeted violence against homeless people were found. 48% of these attacks were fatal. A dip in violent attacks was observed during the early part of the pandemic, only to trend upward as time wore on. 2022 was the most violent year, with 60% of the fatal attacks occurring within that year alone.

California, Oregon, and Florida were hotspots for anti-homeless violence, but attacks were reported across 24 separate states and the District of Columbia.

There were five confirmed serial acts of violence against homeless people during these years. Four out of these five attacks were fatal. We’ve seen serial attacks like this continue to increase in 2023 and 2024 as well, a worrying trend.

The vast majority of perpetrators in both fatal and nonfatal violent attacks were men under the age of 40.

53.3% of the nonlethal attacks were classified as beatings. Of those, 37.5% were carried out by law enforcement officers.

Of course, this report relies on the accurate documentation of violent incidents involving homeless people by local police. This means that the numbers documented are likely significantly lower than the actual rates of violence since many attacks go unreported, undocumented, or underplayed in terms of severity.

When you consider how frequent and antagonist police are toward unhoused people, it makes perfect sense that a victim of a violent attack wouldn’t want to get the police involved, lest they be subjected to even more violence.

What Is Fueling These Attacks?

It’s no coincidence that as lawmakers in towns and cities across the country have instituted new laws and policies to make their neighborhoods more hostile to homeless people, these locations have become, well, more hostile.

In order to pass these laws, unhoused people have to be painted as violent, dangerous, unwell, and subhuman. A lot of effort goes into making people believe these lies, and once they do, it’s only a matter of time before the violence starts.

As it turns out, when you make a certain subset of the population a scapegoat – the reason for everything that goes wrong in your city, state, or country – there will be plenty of wanna-be-Batman types who take the bait and decide to “solve” that problem themselves, with violence.

Others may simply want to commit violence already and are looking for an easy target. For that, unhoused people make the perfect mark.

It’s evident that we as a society don’t care about what happens to homeless people since we’re already content to leave them vulnerable, impoverished, and cut off from the basic resources needed to survive. If we turn a blind eye to the institutional violence being done to homeless people every day, why would we object to a little more individual violence on top of that? The unfortunate answer is that hardly anyone does.

In fact, certain states are starting to legalize violence against homeless people to an even greater degree. Not content with simply arresting unhoused people carrying out the necessities of daily living like sitting, lying, or sleeping in public, Kentucky has taken things a step further. The “Safer Kentucky Act” allows individuals to use deadly force against anyone engaging in “unlawful camping.”

Private property has more sanctity and protection than actual human lives- what could be more American?

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s taken us decades of anti-homeless propaganda to get to this point, but we can still claw our way back out of this hole.

After years of dehumanization, we need to focus on rehumanization. When we stop refusing to see the basic human dignity inherent in each person, yes, even homeless people, we will be better positioned than ever to solve the issue of homelessness without causing further harm.

Sustainable solutions are built with compassion, understanding, and respect, not with pity, derision, and paternalism.

Push back against lawmakers who suggest rules for others that they would never want to be held to themselves. Don’t vote for homeless policies that you would hate to be on the wrong side of- you never know when you might find yourself there, either because you become homeless or because politicians get bold enough to transfer the treatment they’ve been trying out on unhoused people to the general population.

Get to know the actual homeless people in your neighborhood so that you can see firsthand they’re just regular people. You may talk to dozens of unhoused people before meeting someone who vaguely matches the stereotypical description. You can see that much just in the stories featured on this page.

You may even know some homeless people already. Maybe your favorite grocery store cashier has been couch-surfing for a few weeks. Your fun co-worker may sleep under his desk on the weekends. Maybe your nurse lives out of a car in the hospital parking lot. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell.

Many of the people you encounter every day at work, school, or just running errands may not have stable housing to go home to, and you may never know about it because, once again, homeless people are just people like anyone else. It’s time that we start acting like it.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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