Traverse City police investigate attacks on homeless men

Jul 7, 2016

Police in Traverse City are investigating a pair of attacks on homeless men this week. The victims were kicked, and had firecrackers and stones thrown at them. 

Two were injured badly enough to be taken to the hospital. David Whitney has a broken nose and 27 stitches on his forehead, above his eye and, he says, inside his mouth. His left eye is swollen and blue. 

"They came back in here three times to continue," Whitney says of the attacks. "[They] dragged me down there ... kicking the stuffing out of me.

Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O'Brien says the first attack took place early Tuesday morning, near the Central United Methodist Church on Cass Street. The second attack was early Thursday morning in the same location. Central United provides breakfast and showers to Traverse City's homeless population.

Police arrested a 19-year-old Kingsley man today in connection with the attacks, but they believe three or four other attackers were involved. O'Brien says he will requests charges of aggravated assault and larceny.

O'Brien says attacks on homeless people are a nationwide phenomenon.

"I think they're bullies, myself," says O'Brien. "Our homeless people are the most vulnerable in our community, as far as being the victim of a crime."

Ryan Hannon is street outreach coordinator for Goodwill Northern Michigan. He says attacks like these on homeless people are more common in Traverse City than people may realize.

"This happens quite frequently," says Hannon. "It seems to happen more frequently in the summer, especially during times like this, with the Cherry Festival."

Hannon says homeless advocates are mounting a national movement to get law enforcement and the justice system to label attacks on homeless people as hate crimes.