Charlie (not his real name) is a 68-year-old veteran who lives with several hundred people under the viaduct near Honolulu International Airport. This large group of homeless people (or as law enforcement calls them, “residentially challenged”) has formed a community. Unfortunately, as in most communities, there are persons who prey on seniors like Charlie.
One day, Charlie was sitting near his belongings when a camp member approached him, demanding his flashlight. When Charlie refused, the man hit him on the head with enough force to knock him down and create a three-inch gash.
Charlie was my introduction into the homeless senior victim arena. In 2008, when I was creating the elder abuse team at the Prosecutor’s Office, I imagined my victims to be found in care homes, relatives’ homes, or their own homes. Little did I realize that a large portion of my cases happen where the victims have no homes at all. Throughout the years, I was reminded of this fact over and over again.
My first murder case involved a homeless senior looking for shelter at a church in Mānoa. Unfortunately, he found another homeless man instead, David Orpin, who beat him to death for “invading” his territory. Another particularly violent case happened (again, near the airport viaduct) when a homeless man rode his bicycle up to a pair of senior women who were using the overpass for shelter. The bicyclist made obscene comments and exposed himself. When the younger woman ran for help, the bicyclist brutally assaulted and raped the 75-year-old.
Some of my more violent cases occur in places open to the public that most of us just drive by without notice. Our attention is only drawn when homeless encampments mar the scenery, causing many to complain about how the government needs to do something about “them” to remove the homeless from our sight. Unfortunately, removing the homeless from sight will only create an environment that will breed more crimes against our elderly homeless. Now, however, when you see the tents and cardboard box shelters lining the beaches and walkways of Hawai‘i, you will know that they house not only homeless seniors, but the criminals who prey on them.
Volunteering or donating to nonprofits that assist the homeless are good ways to help people down on their luck and to protect them.