OUR POSITION: The homeless need to know we won’t tolerate violent crime against them.

Juan Sebastian was asleep on a picnic table in Arcadia when he was held down and beaten by three men.

His death from that brutal attack is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of our homeless population.

Sebastian, usually seen pushing a shopping cart around town with his dog Cheeto by his side, was something of a celebrity in Arcadia.

He was found badly beaten behind a Mexican restaurant Dec. 8.

One of the suspects was upset that Sebastian had “flirted” with his girlfriend earlier that day, and when he and the other suspects saw Sebastian asleep on a picnic table, he ordered the other two men to hold Sebastian down while he punched and kicked him, according to police reports. The beating lasted about 15 minutes, a witness told police.

Sebastian, 69, was taken to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage and a crushed windpipe, among other injuries. He never regained consciousness and was taken off life support. He died Dec. 23 at Tidewell Hospice, with Cheeto by his side.

While the community held a vigil demanding justice for Sebastian, police closed in and arrested three suspects in connection with his death, charging them with second-degree murder.

On the same day Sebastian was attacked, another horrible act of violence against a homeless person happened in North Port. A 72-year-old woman was attacked and raped in a gazebo near U.S. 41 and Pan American Boulevard. The suspect fled the area but was arrested Dec. 30 in West Virginia after a multi-state manhunt.

The homeless are often branded as a threat to society, but it’s often the other way around.

A National Coalition for the Homeless study from 2018 concluded that homeless people are more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. The study analyzed anti-homeless attacks between 1999 and 2017 and found 1,769 reported acts of violence. Of those victims, 476 lost their lives.

The NHC estimates the actual number of attacks is much higher because many go unreported.

We need to let the homeless know we care about what happens to them.

One way of doing that is through an annual homeless count in each community. Volunteers spread out to find them — in cars, tents, wherever — and ask them questions about their lives and how they are doing. Charlotte County’s lead homeless agency, the Gulf Coast Partnership, organizes the annual count here. These surveys are crucial for helping to allocate funding and resources to help the homeless achieve stability. According to a statement from GCP’s Gaither Stephens, “Without the count, there wouldn’t be assistance. It’s that cut and dry.”

The next homeless count in Charlotte County is Jan. 30. If you want to help, you need to attend a 9 a.m. training session on either Jan. 16 or Jan. 20 at the Charlotte Community Foundation in Punta Gorda.

Maybe we can’t fix the moral rot that causes some to think they can harm others weaker than themselves, but this is at least one way to reach out to the disenfranchised in our society and let them know someone’s looking out for them.

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