AUSTIN (KXAN) — The recent assault of a sleeping homeless man on March 28 highlights the violence faced by Austin’s population of homeless people.

Chris Davis, communications and public policy director at the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), said that homeless people are more vulnerable to violence.

“Someone who doesn’t have the security of being able to lock the door behind them is going to be an easy target,” Davis said.

Survey data of homeless people gathered by ECHO in 2022 revealed that 56.6% of respondents reported “being attacked or beaten up since they became unhoused.”

Further data from the Austin Police Department between 2014-2019 shows:

  • 5.2% of violent crimes included a homeless victim and suspect;
  • 2.4% included a homeless suspect and non-homeless victim; and,
  • 3.9% included a homeless victim and non-homeless suspect.

The vast majority of violent crime in that period does not involve homeless people (88.4%).

“We see pretty consistently that a majority of people report that they have been attacked or beaten up since they started experiencing homelessness, and more worryingly, it’s something that we’ve seen increasing…within the last couple of years,” Davis said. “How we think about violence matters here as well.”

Beyond crime, homeless people also face structural violence. Davis explains that arrests, as an example, carry a risk of violence that is also a racial equity issue. Violence at shelters, as well as limited shelter options for gender-diverse homeless people, also shows how the intersection of identities can bring down violence unequally.

“I don’t think that we can ignore our responsibility in it. I think the way that we talk about folks who are living outside, the way that we view people who are living outside has a really big impact on how folks are treated,” Davis said. “What we hear all the time from people experiencing homelessness is that they feel forgotten. They feel thrown away, ignored, invisible. And when a community doesn’t see certain neighbors as worthy of respect–worthy of care, then that affects how folks are treated.”

From ECHO’s perspective, “camp sweeps” and restrictions on “camping” in public are a part of the problem, as they push people away from the public eye and towards areas with less security.

“When you’re allowed to be in a public place, you feel safer, because you have the protections of being in public right?” Davis said. “When people are forced to move into the woods and under the bridges and back into these hidden places…then the likelihood that you’re going to experience some kind of violence is going to increase because it’s easier to commit violence in hidden places.”