A salvo from our very own Nick Falvo in today’s Toronto Star:
The murder trial of a group of Canadian Forces reservists accused of beating a homeless man to death has grabbed many a headline.
But as disturbing as it has been for most of us to read about the trial, the incident could have been expected.
On Aug. 31, 2005, 59-year-old Paul Croutch was beaten to death in the wee hours of the morning at Moss Park, in downtown Toronto.
On May 1 of this year, two of the young men involved were each given jail sentences for their role in the beating. They had each pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
A third young man was given a lighter sentence after pleading guilty to being an accessory.
All three reservists were also given sentences for assault causing bodily harm for their role in the beating of a woman (also homeless) as she attempted to stop the assault on Croutch.
There was no evidence during the trial that Croutch had ever fought back.
Croutch, a one-time community newspaper publisher, was sleeping in a well-lit area. He was afraid of shelters and found them to be dangerous.
He used garbage bags in an attempt to protect himself from the pouring rain.
Croutch also had been in poor health. He suffered from heart disease, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, emphysema and swelling in the legs.
During the incident, Croutch was kicked and punched in the head, midsection and back.
Before being taken off life-support several hours later at St. Michael’s Hospital, he had suffered fractured ribs, a torn spleen and a fatal brain injury.
For those who work with the homeless, the incident was totally predictable.
Homeless people come from all walks of life. Many have been married. Often with children. Often with professional qualifications.
Once homeless – be it sleeping outdoors or in a shelter – they suffer chronic health problems. As Dr. Stephen Hwang, a world-renowned epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, once wrote: “Homeless people in their 40s and 50s often develop health disabilities that are commonly seen only in people who are decades older.”
The 2007 Street Health Report surveyed a representative sample of 368 homeless adults in Toronto. One-third of respondents reported being homeless for five years or longer, and three-quarters reported having at least one chronic or ongoing physical health condition.
In comparison with the general population, they reported heart disease at five times the normal rate and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (of which emphysema is one form) at 17 times the normal rate.
The report also details their exposure to violence. Thirty-five per cent of respondents reported at least one experience of physical assault in the previous year.
In the April 26, 2000, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hwang published results of a study he had done on homeless men in Toronto. His research found that homeless men are nine times more likely to be murdered than their housed counterparts.
In February of this year, the New York Times reported that violence toward the homeless is “soaring” throughout the United States, with teenagers and young adults being the principal culprits.
In short, for years we have known about a mounting homelessness problem and the health repercussions associated with it. We have also known that homeless people are more likely to be both physically assaulted and murdered than the rest of the population. We even know who does it.
The data are both compelling and well-documented.
We should all be outraged by Paul Croutch’s murder, but none of us should be surprised.
Nick Falvo is the author of Gimme Shelter! Homelessness and Canada’s Social Housing Crisis. He works at Street Health in Toronto.