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Homeless attacks could labeled hate crimes

A Washington state legislator wants to raise the penalties, but some say the priority should be on ending homelessness.
/ Source: KING5

SEATTLE - A state legislator wants to make attacks on the homeless a hate crime.

Rep. Scott White, D-Seattle, points to a growing number of attacks on the homeless in recent years, most of them committed by teens. 

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According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the number of fatal attacks on homeless people over the past decade was more than twice the total number of hate-motivated homicides that targeted victims because of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

"This will give them one extra layer of protection and hopefully raise awareness that we need to do more to try to protect this class of folks," said White

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Richard Stauffer has lived on an old school bus under an Interstate 5 overpass for the past year. The 51-year-old has seen the violence firsthand.

"One person I know, he was sitting in a bus shelter waiting for the bus and he was attacked by teens and they broke his jaw,” said Stauffer.

Yet Stauffer has mixed feelings about the proposed legislation. While he likes the idea of stiffer penalties, he says the priority should be getting people off the streets.

"They've had a 10-year plan to end homelessness and all they do is talk about it. They need to get on the stick and do something and get people off the streets," said Stauffer.

The City of Seattle added homeless persons to the city ordinance on malicious harassment in December 2007. White says now it's time for the state to step up.

"I'm proud Seattle is recognized as a national leader in fighting hate crimes against the homeless,” said White. “We not only need to improve state support for homeless shelters and services, we also need to show that hate crimes of any kind against the homeless will not be tolerated anywhere in Washington."

Maryland is the only state so far to extend hate-crime protections to the homeless.