Exploring the experiences of victimisation of the homeless
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Despite the contemporary status of South Africa, having gained its democracy over two decades ago, different population groups still live on the margins of society and are burdened by a myriad of social issues and often exposed to adverse conditions of multiple deprivations and victimisation. One such group is the homeless, a so-called „surplus population‟ which is frequently viewed as „disposable‟ and „deviant‟. These individuals could be viewed as symptom-bearers of prejudice, discrimination and conflict. Although more notorious for their roles as the perpetrators of crime, homeless individuals are frequently the victims of violent acts which are widely overlooked and seldom reported and they often become the targets of identity or hate-based crimes. With a history of discrimination and segregation of certain marginalised groups, researchers have noted that societal conditions within the South African context provide a breeding ground for criminal acts which are motivated by bias towards a certain group of people – particularly the homeless population. Similar biases are held against foreign nationals – this bias is presently a recognised hate crime category in the Hate Crime and Hate Speech Bill of South Africa. Recent developments on the homelessness front include the incorporation of the status of homelessness under the protection of hate crime legislation in several jurisdictions in the United Sates. Should South Africa, however, make the necessary efforts to follow this example it could prove to be valuable in terms of policy implications and ultimately the reduction of homeless victimisation. Accordingly, through the use of various victimisation risk models, in conjunction with integrative elements from the socio-structural perspective and also key factors from the most prominent labelling theories, this study was broadly centred around the exploration of the experiences of victimisation of the homeless within the South African context and it explored the nature, patterns, impact and consequences of homelessness and the availability of support systems. This study also included some exploration of the plausibility of including the status of homelessness under the enhanced protection of the developing Hate Crime and Hate Speech Bill of South Africa. Guided by a qualitative methodological approach, this study pursued an in-depth exploration of homelessness, assessing this global phenomenon on a victimological, physiological, psychological, legal and social level. A theoretical purposive sample of 17 homeless individuals currently residing in shelters, situated in both Bloemfontein and Kimberley, were included in the study. The findings obtained during the course of this study indicated that a large percentage (76.5%) of homeless individuals who formed part of the research sample experienced some form of victimisation as well as other hardships while on the streets and sometimes, to a lesser, yet significant extent in shelters, usually with very little to no support offered to them. With reference to the causal and consequential factors of homelessness and the experience of victimisation, many experiences documented concurred with the existing literature and theoretical perspectives utilised and evaluated for the purposes of this study. However, there is still a limited understanding of this complex phenomenon and a number of grey areas, indicative of a real need which exists for more research of this nature in contemporary victimological research, especially in the South African context. Using the recommendations of this study as a guideline for future research, it is envisioned that with a greater understanding of the homeless and their experiences of victimisation, more can be done by prioritising the gaining of control of the frequency of experiences of victimisation among the homeless population. This can be achieved through the development of enhanced protective legislation for the status of homelessness (hate crime legislation) and ultimately the development and implementation of homeless population reduction strategies in order to reduce or eradicate homelessness on a domestic and eventually, a global scale.