Victimisation of homeless people in Poland

General information

Victimisation in society is not evenly distributed among all its members. There are groups whose representatives are more exposed to the risk of being victimised by crime, and others whose members may feel safer. Criminological research shows that the groups that often experience different types of crime are the poor and the socially excluded. A group particularly vulnerable to violence and victimisation are people in the crisis of homelessness.

These issues are important from a scholarly and social point of view. At the same time, there is a noticeable lack of sufficient academic reflection in this area. For example, hitherto studies on cooperation between administrative bodies, e.g. in the form of administrative agreements, are no longer sufficient to describe complex forms of international cooperation between NCAs. First attempts to discuss these phenomena have already surfaced in Polish literature, but they are unsatisfactory. Observing the activities of Polish administration bodies, it can be indicated that their current practice with regard to joining and participating in transnational networks is tainted with randomness. The current practice of administration bodies lacks long-term objectives that the cooperation is supposed to serve. For this reason, there is also a lack of a well-thought-out internal policy coordinating the participation in these networks by employees of offices. What is also important, there is a lack of any reflection on the part of chief administrative bodies as to how this bottom-up and independent international activity of Polish public administration authorities should be supervised.

Foreign studies on the homeless population show that their risk of becoming a victim of robbery is 15 times higher and of physical injury as a result of a beating is as much as 35 times higher than that of the average member of society. Overall, the percentage of victims in this demographic is very high and exceeds 80%, and for the vast majority of homeless people this is not a once in a lifetime experience (Ballintyne 1999, Gaetz 2004, Jasinski et al. 2005, Grover 2008, Sanders and Albanese 2016).

As part of the project, the first Polish study of victimisation of people experiencing homelessness in our country was carried out. Interviews were conducted with 21 experts working with people affected by homelessness and with 37 people in homelessness crisis, including 13 Romanian Roma. All of them were asked what types of violence/crime most often affect people experiencing homelessness, how they are perceived by these people, who are the perpetrators of this type of behaviour, what protection strategies are used to increase the degree and feeling of safety of the victims, who supports people in crisis of homelessness in terms of protecting them from violence and victimisation.

This was a qualitative study, so it is impossible to provide a numerical scale of the violence against homeless people. Their results show that violence and victimisation is an everyday and constant life experience of people in homelessness crisis. However, it is not noticed by the people who support them: during the research most of the experts admitted that this is the first time they have thought about this issue. Violence against the homeless in Poland most often takes the form of verbal, symbolic and structural violence (exclusion from space, lack of support, and forms of support that insult human dignity). Physical violence is less frequent, which results from the fact that homeless people in Poland are practically invisible in public space and it is difficult for outsiders to identify them. The situation is different for Romanian Roma. Since they largely rely on income from begging and are present on the streets, they are much more likely to experience different types of violence. In their case, there is a correlation of violence due to abject poverty and their ethnicity. Women in crisis of homelessness are also in a particularly vulnerable situation. Although their number is not very high – they make up about 20% of the homeless population – for them, the time of homelessness is a period of increased physical and sexual violence suffered from men. Another important finding of the research is that the perpetrators of violence against the homeless are mostly so-called normal, average members of Polish society, and not other homeless people or unidentified criminals.

The study contributes to the development of Polish victimology. There is a lack of empirical research in this discipline, especially concerning people from marginalised communities and collecting experiences and viewpoints of the victims.