An alarming spike in violence against the homeless is being reported by local advocacy groups. At least 10 assaults against homeless individuals have been carried out in the last two months, including attacks downtown and in the Elmwood Village.
In some instances, victims were robbed of what little they had. One man was followed to a park bench after withdrawing $20 from an ATM.
Kathleen Heim, co-founder of Project Homeless Connect Buffalo, said advocates believe the homeless are being directly targeted and that most of the assaults remain unreported to police.
“They do seem to be identifying homeless populations specifically,” Heim told WBFO News. “There is a belief that homeless clients are less likely to report to the police because they might have concerns with paranoia, they might have outstanding record themselves, they might be distrustful of the police for a variety of reasons. My experience is they are targeted because they’re less likely to report than the average citizen.”
Heim has seen the effects of the attacks firsthand.
“There have been violent attacks with hands and with weapons. Six of our clients have been hospitalized, requiring rather intensive services. Two required reconstructive surgery and one actually lost permanent eyesight in one of his eyes as a result of an attack,” she said.
Jason Flores, outreach supervisor for the Matt Urban Center, said police are aware of the recent crimes and have reached out to victims for information. There are indications that two assailants might be responsible for many of the facts.
Flores noted that some victims are leery to file reports because they fear retaliation from the attackers.
On Sept. 22, Project Homeless Connect Buffalo held an annual event that matched up homeless individuals with resources to help them find stability.
More than 600 people received free food, counseling, health screenings, and personal care items at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. It's the seventh year the event has helped link the homeless with the resources they need for a more stable life, said Heim.
“We offer extensive counseling, whether it’s credit counseling, mental health services, legal counsel, really anything and everything you can imagine," Heim told WBFO, which covered the event.
Community leaders and activists also used the event as an opportunity to call on Governor Cuomo to fund 35,000 supportive housing units, or affordable housing with on-site services for those who need them.