VULNERABLE — An unsheltered couple sleep on the Old Jail property in Downtown DeLand. BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD


In the wake of the death in a chokehold of Jordan Neely on May 1 — a young man suffering from mental illness and experiencing an episode of homelessness on a New York City subway — it has become evident there are stigmas so powerful they overrule any logic and humanity, causing some to violently unleash their anger upon those who are without residence in our communities.

Waylan Niece

Many people do not understand nor take the time to understand those they see in Downtown DeLand, on the benches, panhandling and the like. These people pass judgment based on stereotyping and stigmatization.

Unfortunately, this stereotyping and stigmatization only breeds resentment toward those who have been deemed “other.” When people become “other,” they have lost their human status and become mere objects that can be utilized for any purpose deemed appropriate at any given point in time.

People experiencing homelessness are not objects; rather, they are people with real physical bodies, people with real emotions, people who are at vulnerable points in their lives. These people appear to have become the lashing post for those looking for opportunity to explode, often with the ability to escape the ramifications of their actions due to the unjust stigmatization and perception of the masses.

The recent Jordan Neely case that is underway is similar to other instances across our country over the years such as the incidents in San Francisco, where a high-profile community member bear-sprayed a homeless individual.

According to Statista, an online statistical database, there were more than 25,000 unprovoked cases of violence against homeless persons in 2022. This type of occurrence is becoming more frequent and is happening right here in our local communities.

This is not only unacceptable, but despicable that we as human beings treat our most vulnerable community members in this manner. The majority of violence caused to this population is perpetrated by non-homeless community members.

In April 2023, a man without residence sleeping outside the Bank of America in Deltona was brutally stabbed to death by a random attacker. While the motive for this incident is still unclear, what is clear is this person was vulnerable and easily accessible for displays of violence.

Again, right here in DeLand, a recent police report details an incident in which a local businessman was involved in an altercation with a man who was experiencing homelessness, allegedly pinning him against a fence with his vehicle, and strangling him. For what? Because a person is sleeping in the grass of a business.

This is not a homelessness problem we are talking about; rather it is a morality issue within ourselves and how we would like to interact with those in our community. Violence against our most vulnerable populations is the lowest form of degradation and immorality.

Our needy and mentally ill individuals experiencing homelessness are our moral test.

American writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck posited, “The test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.” How will we be judged, and will we pass the test?

— Niece is the operations director at The Neighborhood Center in DeLand.


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