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Homeless status may be added to city's hate crimes law; and more money for winter shelter

Cincinnati Council could soon be asked to add homeless status or perceived homeless status to the city's hate crimes law.

Council Member Chris Seelbach and others are making the announcement Thursday during a press conference near the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine.

"Which means that if police determine that the crime was committed because the person was homeless or perceived to be homeless, then a judge could add up to 180 days on the sentence of the person who committed the crime," Seelbach said.

Seelbach said the proposed action is in response to a recent attack outside the Drop Inn Center.  In that case a man said he felt targeted because of his homeless status.

The Cincinnati Municipal Code identifies and defines the following protected classes under the criminal intimidation section:  a person or group of persons based upon the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or age (60 and above).

Seelbach said adding homeless status to the protected classes is common across the country.  He said Cincinnati would be the first to add it in the State of Ohio.  He said such attacks on the homeless are becoming more common.

"In 2013 alone, the National Coalition of Homeless became aware of 109 documented attacks on homeless people by people who were not homeless just because of their homeless status," Seelbach said.  "And 18 of those resulted in the death of the person."

Council likely will not act on the change until after the New Year.

Meanwhile, Seelbach and others on Council are asking city administrators to add another $30,000 to the city's winter shelter program.

"Bringing us to the same level that we were at last year," Seelbach said.  "And then put $15,000 in a contingency fund in case the winter is harsher or longer than we're projecting."

A vote on the additional funding could come next week.

Right now on extremely cold winter nights, those seeking shelter are housed at the Drop Inn Center and at a church in Over-the-Rhine.  When the new Drop Inn Center in Queensgate is completed, the winter shelter will be fully contained in one facility.  

Officials originally thought that plan could be in place by next winter.  But a funding shortfall for building the new Drop Inn Center could mean a delay in opening the new Queensgate location.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.