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Teens Face Charges In Beating Of Homeless Man

A Clackamas County jury has indicted three teenagers for the beating of a homeless man earlier this month in Milwaukie. They face charges of first degree assault, attempted murder, and unlawful use of a weapon. It's not clear what the motive the attackers had for the assault. But for homeless advocates, it's a familiar pattern. Colin Fogarty reports.

Police describe 43-year-old Andrew Gonzalez as a transient. He told investigators that on July 31st, he met 19-year-old Samuel Morton, 16-year-old Shawn Glancy, and 17-year-old Rauno Helmik. When police were called out on reports of an assault early the next morning, they found a badly beaten man in a rocky area by the Willamette River.

Gonzales was taken to OHSU with serious head and hand injuries. He underwent surgery and was released a few days later. The crime remains unexplained.

Chuck Currie: "The first thing I thought when I heard that story is that it's a familiar story. It's an increasingly familiar story across our country."

Reverend Chuck Currie is pastor at the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in Portland. For several years, he served on the board of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Last year, the group documented 142 violent attacks nationwide against homeless people,  including murders, rapes, and six people being set on fire. Those figures do not include homeless-on-homeless violence.

Currie says nationally, attacks on transients by non-homeless people is on the rise.
Chuck Currie: "And these crimes are more often than not done by young kids, young teen agers who are sometimes saying that they're doing it out of boredom, sometimes saying it because they see it on television and think it will be fun."

Currie cites programs like so-called "Bum Fights," videos — which are sold in video stores — that show fights between homeless people.

(Sound from "Bum Fights" video.)

Chuck Currie: "And the videos aren't responsible for what the kids do. But they play into assumptions and stereotypes of homeless people. And they help this process of devaluing them."

Though the National Coalition for the Homeless tracks a rise in assaults on homeless people, it's not certain how common the problem is in Oregon or whether it's on the rise. In downtown Portland, there were two high profile assaults of homeless people several years ago. But not so much lately.

(Sound from the lobby of Central City Concern.)

At Central City Concern in downtown Portland, program manager Sarah Goforth says the city of Portland's 10-year plan to end homelessness has made significant progress getting people off the streets in Portland. But she says some chronically homeless people could be moving elsewhere.

Sarah Goforth: "They may be. There is a core of folks that will always be downtown. But it also makes sense that some of those people have been dispersed to southeast. In fact, I've heard inner southeast providers say, 'Well, they're just walking over the bridge and just camping.'"

Not much is known about Andrew Gonzales, the transient attacked in Milwaukie, which is farther south than inner-southeast Portland.

Samuel Morton, the oldest member of the three teens accused in the assault is scheduled to stand trial in October. The other two are being held at the Donald E. Long juvenile detention center. But they're being charged as adults.