Skip to content

Homeless attacks increase locally and nationwide


Taking out anger on the unhoused

Homelessness has been an issue at large for many years on the streets of Los Angeles which accounts for the largest number of homeless and displaced individuals in the country. In 2020, Los Angeles accounted for 63,706 homeless individuals with 23,705 critically homeless, 46,090 unsheltered, and only 17,616 sheltered. While the homelessness crisis is truly heart-wrenching, equally disconcerting is the violence perpetrated against homeless individuals.

Los Angeles has witnessed a 60% increase in homeless attacks since 2020. In recent years, the issue has transformed itself into one of the most critically discussed concerns, namely how to resolve the continuing cycle. In 2022 alone, Los Angeles saw an uptick in violence against displaced and homeless people with up to 92 homicides, 74% of which involved use of a firearm.

Rev. Andy Bales, president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, has worked with homeless individuals for more than three decades and serves as a wealth of knowledge concerning the homelessness crisis and more specifically the cause of violence against them.

“Our mission is to give them hope and healing for a changed life–and help them find their way home. We embrace men, women and children experiencing homelessness with the compassion of Jesus Christ,” Bales said. “The Union Rescue Mission is the largest non-profit organization responsible for providing adults and children suffering from homelessness with outreach, transformation, emergency services, and restoration.

Several factors contribute to violence toward homeless individuals. According to the 2014 report “Violence and Victims,” the competition for space, the influence of drugs and alcohol, and mental illness can lead to attacks on the homeless by both acquaintances and strangers alike. Increasingly, vigilantes have verbally harassed homeless persons to provoke altercations, often in an effort to “reclaim”  neighborhoods which have been overrun by the unhoused.

As a result of these attacks, many people suffer psychological, medical and physical injuries. The cost of medical treatment can be different for people who are in need of help and unable to afford medical assistance. More than half of victims report that the attacks happened in a street or alley. The report also noted that the attackers were people close to them including friends or partners.

Bales said, “Much like the general public, much of the violence is alcohol and drug-fueled turf battles, failure to pay rent to gangs for tent space, collection of debts by gangs for failure to pay a drug debt.” Bales said he witnessed a 6-foot, 6-inch man weighing at least 400 pounds beat a woman “because she owed money.”

The frustration, Bales explained, results in part because housed neighbors have come to hate the homeless. What’s more, Bales has documented the violence against the homeless as part of gang initiations.

In May, Ramon Escobar, originally from El Salvador, killed five homeless persons in Southern California. He bludgeoned the victims with bolt cutters and a baseball bat as they lay sleeping on streets or on the beach. All but one were homeless. In an interview with local law enforcement, Escobar said he killed the victims here because they “irritated” him, they were “disrespectful to law enforcement” and because he “needed money.”

Bales is familiar with this type of brutality against the homeless. He keeps his cellphone number available to those who have been victim of beatings.

“Nearly eight weeks in a row running a person from the streets to the hospital, with broken collarbones, detached retinas, and concussions,” he said. He’s lost two friends to stabbings. “Richard, Lee and Joe in Des Moines, Iowa, then my friend, Art, was thrown in a campfire for not sharing his bottle. Ninety-five percent of his body was burned.”

Bales had ABC7 Eyewitness News set up a camera and he and the news crew documented a youth gang beating a man until he collapsed and continued to kick him in the head.

“I’ve watched women on Skid Row slap a man, then lure him into a fight while having gang members waiting in the darkness who then pummeled and robbed the man. I’ve seen dead bodies numerous times on Skid Row after shootings. I’ve seen gangs beat and knock off and rob people after they’ve lost consciousness,” he said.

In keeping with Mayor Karen Bass’ Inside Safe Initiative, Bales continues to work tirelessly to serve as many people suffering with homelessness as possible. However, he fully realizes it is a “tall task” because the number of homeless throughout Los Angeles has risen sharply over the past few years.

“[We need] a renewed focus on giving recovery a chance,” he said. “I just heard Share Sober Living was given a chance to be part of two outreaches in Venice and 131 precious souls chose Shared Sober Living as an option. In suggesting what can be done to provide more resources for the homeless, Bales said “more immediate and welcoming 24/7 triage shelters for anyone who wants immediate shelter then innovative affordable immediate housing opportunities like 3D Printed Concrete Homes.” These are 600 square foot dwellings–including a bathroom and kitchen–that cost roughly $80,000 each to build.

Also, the “tiny homes” have bathrooms as well, and kitchens that are far less expensive to construct at generally $25,000 each. “These would be much more cost effective and neighbors would welcome them if they were placed in sober recovery villages–at least 30% of them could be–so people have a choice for recovery,” Bales said.

“The greatest danger we face is leaving 70% of our people devastated by homelessness to suffer horrific death,” Bales said.

This article is a part of a series of articles for Our Weekly's #StopTheHate campaign and is supported in whole or part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library. #NoPlaceForHateCA,

#StopAAPIHate, #CaliforniaForAll