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Homeless man testifies for bill

March 31, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- He's been threatened and his property has been vandalized.

More than once he's had to call the police to stop a group of children from throwing beer bottles, sticks and eggs at his home.

James Devine's home happens to be his van, and now the Washington County resident is pushing for a state law that would make crimes against him and other homeless people considered hate crimes.

Devine, who has been homeless for 25 years, was in Annapolis Tuesday to testify in favor of a bill sponsored by Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, that would make the homeless a protected classification, in the same way crimes based on race or religion are considered hate crimes.

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This is the third year Mooney has sponsored the bill.

"In those three years of coming before you, unfortunately the situation has not improved for homeless individuals," he said in written testimony Tuesday before the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee.

Mooney's bill was supported by the Senate and is now in the House for consideration.Mooney attached newspaper stories to his written testimony showing recent cases when homeless people have been targeted in attacks.

Devine said he suffered almost daily abuse while living in his van in Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. He now parks on a farm but did not want the location disclosed.

Devine said the abuse he suffers from children who throw items at his van, call him names and threaten to hurt him should be considered hate crimes.

"Anytime you stand out in society ... it's a hostility toward people they don't care for or don't understand," Devine said.

Mooney's bill also is supported by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maryland, and other groups and government agencies.

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