Violence and the New Face of Homelessness in America

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

In 2009, violence against the homeless was at an all time high, with reports of injuries, vandalism of property, and 43 deaths among homeless persons across the nation. The stressful experiences of becoming homeless and then being victimized create extremely high levels of trauma, leading to elevated rates of mental illness among homeless individuals.

These and other factors have contributed to a significant shift in the profile of homelessness. Homelessness is no longer the unique experience of addicts, the severely mentally ill, or the chronically unemployed. In recent years, homelessness has been on the rise due to soaring unemployment rates, increased levels of poverty, the foreclosure crisis, and a shortage of affordable housing and social services, all of which accompanied the recent economic downturn in the United States. The recent recession has left thousands of formerly hard-working, middle class people without a roof over their heads. Six million Americans have lost their home to foreclosures, leading to the recent surge of tent cities throughout the country. For example, an estimated 1,534 people are living in Los Angeles encampments and 900 in Sacramento, California.

We are currently seeing, for example, an increase in the number of homeless veterans. As of 2007, one in four homeless people were veterans. Veterans often become homeless due to mental illness and/or substance abuse for which they receive inadequate, if any, professional treatment. According to Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans’ programs at the VA, forty-five percent of people who use their programs have a mental illness, while three out of four have substance abuse problems.The most common mental illness, and one of the leading causes of homelessness among veterans, is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, living on the streets itself leads homeless individuals to experience the kinds of victimization that lead to PTSD. A study published in 2004 inChild Adolescent Psychiatry found that eighty-three percent of youth living on the streets were physically or sexually victimized. Among these homeless youth, eighteen percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus the cycle: homelessness leads to PTSD, while PTSD and other mental illnesses make it even more difficult for homeless people to improve their situation.

Unfortunately, violence against the homeless is not always frowned upon; sometimes, it is, instead, celebrated. In recent YouTube videos, young males are showcased physically and verbally abusing homeless men under the name of “BumHunters” or “Bum Fights.” In some jurisdictions, local police play a role in victimizing the homeless. In one reported instance, a homeless man was approached by a police officer who slapped him on the back and called him names like “punk” and “homeless bitch.”

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Chen, M. (2009, October 16). Homelessness and the Recession: An Unimaginable Crisis. In These Times. Retrieved from an_unimaginable_crisis/

Dobnik, V. (2006, July 5). Homelessness a Threat for Iraq Vets. Retrieved from (2010, March 19th). Economic Crisis Devastates Rich & Poor- Tent Cities in America. Retrieved from

Student Researchers: Emily Waterman, Jessica Starr, Sara Fitzpatrick, Siena College

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mo Hannah, Siena College