COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Many people in Colorado Springs believe that the homeless are becoming victims of, and committing, more crimes than in the past.
But police and the Salvation Army said Thursday that there's no evidence to support such a belief.
"It could be that with the internet, we just hear about it more often," said Maj. Richard Larson of the Salvation Army.
Several incidents in the past month have raised concern about the impact of homelessness: the shooting death of a homeless man at a housing complex, the beating of a homeless man at a shopping center near Citadel Mall, the stabbing of a downtown restaurant worker by a homeless man, and a handful of brush fires ignited by fires at homeless camps.
In the attacks on the homeless, one victim was sleeping with his wife and the other victim may have sought a place to sleep or stay warm.
Christine Noyce has a wife and two daughters. She said she's been homeless since the family's home caught fire three years ago.
Noyce said homeless people need understanding -- not to be feared, hated or avoided.
"We're not a disease," she said. "Being homeless means we're not as fortunate. We're residentially challenged."
Noyce speculated on what may have happened with the recent homeless attack victims.
"Maybe they were told they can't loiter here, or sleep here or panhandle here," she said. "Maybe they were told nicely, maybe they weren't. I realize that some of us have mental health issues, or we're on drugs and alcohol. But we're not all that way. Don't assume that we are and treat us like we are."
Some people admit that negative perceptions about the homeless exist, but changing them isn't easy.
John and Carolyn Shaw said they don't hate the homeless but are cautious of them.
"I'd try to avoid them," John Shaw said. "Because you don't always know what to expect from them."
Larson said people become homeless for a variety of reasons and most are just trying to survive and cope with their situations as best they can.
"They are people who are maybe on the outs, but we can't judge them by a cover because we've never walked a day in their shoes," he said.
Sgt. Curt Hasling of the police department's Homeless Outreach Team, agreed.
"They're not out just victimizing people," he said. "Try to understand where they come from."
The stabbing of the restaurant worker led to a meeting between members of the downtown business community and city officials, but no decisions were made.
Meanwhile, Noyce said her homeless days will end soon because she has a voucher to find housing.
"My husband and two daughters will be happy with our own place," she said.