Are Homeless People a Threat to Children, or Vice Versa?

19 May

By Anthony Manousos

This article is from the May 19 MHCH Newsletter. To read the entire newsletter, click here.

One of the most common myths we hear about unhoused people is that they are a threat to children and our schools. Disheveled, mentally ill people acting out on the street may seem threatening, like the man pictured above on the left. Shawn Morrisey, who lived on the streets for many years and now works for Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena, often says, “If you had seen me when I was homeless, you would thought I was a scary person.” This above picture went viral and shows Jim Wolf, a vet from Grand Rapids, MI, before and after a makeover that changed his life.

In San Dimas thousands of people showed up to protest permanent supportive housing for seniors (elderly folks over 55 years old) who were living on the streets, claiming that their proximity to a school would endanger children. But are these fears justified?

I did a google search and found very few cases where unhoused people attacked or harmed children, and in no cases were they living in supportive housing. In 2015 in Los Angeles a homeless man grabbed a child near Disney Hall and the headline said that the child was stabbed. The article goes on to state that the boy was only scratched.[1]  There have been attacks on children and teens by homeless men on subways, none of which were fatal.  In one incident a homeless man was accused of killing a child, but the charges were dropped.[2]

All of these incidents are disturbing and shouldn’t be dismissed, but we need to also keep in mind that children are much more likely to be sexually abused by relatives or by teachers than by the unhoused. One of the biggest threats to students is being killed by fellow students toting a gun.

What is also disturbing is the number of unhoused people who are assaulted by teens and even ten-year-old boys.

Egged on by a 17-year-old, two 10-year-old boys joined in the attack of a Florida homeless man, leaving him bruised and bloody, police said. The incident highlights an upswing in violent crime across the U.S. against the homeless. In 2006, there were 142 attacks and 20 murders, several involving teenagers seeking a vicious thrill, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.[4]

In January 2023, seven teenage girls in Toronto allegedly “swarmed” and murdered a 59-year-old unhoused man.[5] Such incidents have become so common they have even received a name: “sport killings.” Horrific though this seems, it is not surprising since many parents harbor such negative stereotypes that children see nothing wrong in attacking or even killing unhoused people. This is happening everywhere, even in Pasadena, where teens sometimes throw rocks at the unhoused residents of our city.

Some schools don’t see affordable/supportive housing as threatening to their students, however. In East Whittier, the conversion of a motel to supportive housing received a lot of community support even though it was next to a school. Monica Oviedo, Whittier Union High School District superintendent, said that the location had fewer issues as a place for unhoused individuals than when it was a motel. She affirms:

“Whittier Union High School District is committed to ensuring our students have access to the resources they need to succeed in not only academics but their personal endeavors as well. This includes having access to affordable housing. Whittier Union is supportive of Supervisor Janice Hahn’s efforts in making this a reality. She has always been a strong advocate for our District community, and we are tremendously grateful.”[6]

As people of faith, we need to remind our friends and neighbors that our unhoused neighbors are children of God, just like us, and we should be grateful when they are safely housed.  If they are given the supportive services they need, they will thrive, and our communities will be better off and safer. This is putting the command to love thy neighbor into action. And as the Gospel says, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).







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