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Homelessness is a widespread problem in the United States that has increased in recent years due to a lack of affordable housing in many urban and suburban areas throughout the country, as well as natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, the subprime mortgage crisis that is causing a substantial increase in home foreclosures. Individuals who are homeless make up a particularly vulnerable population because they lack the protection that private shelter typically affords.
Since the turn of the 21st century, organizations that monitor homelessness have reported increasing rates of violent crimes against homeless people. Between 2002 and 2004, for example, the number of violent deaths of homeless people rose by 67% and the number of nonlethal violent attacks on homeless people increased 281%. Typically, these violent assaults are beatings of homeless people sleeping on the street, under bridges, or at campsites.
Perpetrators of violent attacks on the homeless are primarily young White males, although available data indicate that perpetrators range in age from 11 years to 65 years old. Victims, too, are from all age groups, from infants as young as 4 months old to the elderly. The data show, however, that most victims are men; in 2004, for instance, there were 296 homeless male victims identified as violence victims, compared with 44 homeless female victims. Nevertheless, women are more vulnerable to specific types of violent crime, such as rape and sexual assault.
Violence is also more likely to be a cause of homelessness for women than for men. Research indicates that a large percentage of homeless women—in one study, in fact, 92%—have experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives, often as children in the homes of their parents. A majority of homeless women have been victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) as adults, with as many as one third of homeless women reporting IPV victimization as ongoing or recent. In studies of urban homelessness, more than half of cities show IPV to be a primary causal factor in homelessness. Domestic violence service providers also report that battered women and their children may be forced to return to abusive households because they have no other alternative for housing; their only option would be homelessness.
- Correia, A., & Rubin, J. (2001). Housing and battered women. Applied Research Forum, National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from http://www.vawnet.org
- Golden, S. (1992). The women outside: Meanings and myths of homelessness. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- National Coalition for the Homeless. (2005). Hate, violence and death on Main Street USA: A report on hate crimes and violence against people experiencing homelessness in 2004. Retrieved October 20, 2007, from http://nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/hatecrimes.html
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