Sen. Bill O’Neill
Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Bernalillo, is planning to once again introduce a bill that was unanimously endorsed by the bi-partisan Courts Corrections and Justice Committee in the 2013 regular legislative session that protects homeless individuals from being targeted for harm.
“Senate Bill 124 from our 2013 session enjoyed strong bi-partisan support, and made it to the Senate Floor. But time ran out before it could be moved into the House for further consideration,” O’Neill said. “Many of my legislative colleagues did not realize that homeless men and women are often the victims of random violence because of their vulnerable condition, but advocates who work closely with the homeless have known this for years. One example is the most recent attack on two homeless men in the gruesome manner that was witnessed this week in Albuquerque. This bill is designed to protect homeless individuals from being from being targeted and attacked.”
O’Neill expects many of the same advocates who journeyed to the Roundhouse in 2013 to testify on behalf of this bill will do so again during the upcoming legislative session.
“Each and every year people experiencing homelessness are touched by violence and it is time for all of us to say, enough! These are not invisible people, but they are members of our families. They are our brothers and sisters who need our help and protection,” said advocate Father Rusty Smith, executive director of St. Martin’s Day Shelter in Albuquerque, about the grisly deaths of two homeless men at the hand of three juveniles this week.
“The recent murders in Albuquerque of two homeless people show just how dangerous life on the streets is. To prevent further tragedies like this we need to include homeless people as a protected group in the hate crimes statute in New Mexico. We also need to develop enough supportive housing so that no one is forced to sleep outside,” said advocate Hank Hughes of St. Elizabeth Shelter in Santa Fe.
O’Neill hopes that in this upcoming session, this legislation will send a strong message that New Mexico will protect its most vulnerable citizens, as other states such as Maryland, Florida and Washington have done.
“As one of my Republican colleagues told me during the 2013 session, if we are going to have individuals protected by hate crimes legislation, why not add the homeless as well?” O’Neill said.