Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Raymond Perez thought the memorial garden of the Church-by-the-Sea was a safe place to sleep.
But seven hours after settling up a small resting area there Wednesday night, Perez was struck in the head, arms and legs with something that “felt like a stick,” sending a throbbing shocks through his body and leaving him bloody and injured under his olive-green polyester blanket.
Perez, 49, became the third victim of violent beatings on homeless people around Fort Lauderdale early Thursday morning.
“I felt it was one of the safest places in Fort Lauderdale,” said Perez, who has been sleeping there most nights for a year and a half.
“By the time I uncovered my face, I was all bleeding. The only thing I was thinking about was how I was going to get out of there.”
On Saturday, Perez was recuperating from head and arm wounds at Broward General Medical Center. He said that even though his is afraid of leaving the hospital before the suspects are caught, he will not go to a shelter after his release.
“I’m scared of getting out of here,” Perez said. “But I refuse to go to a shelter. On the street I feel like I can move and at least there, if someone talks to me and I don’t want to talk, I can just leave. In a shelter, I’d feel cornered.”
Sean Cononie, director of the nonprofit Cosac Foundation in Hollywood, said it’s common for homeless hate crime victims to refuse to go to shelters.
“Some of them don’t like shelters and will go right back onto the street,” said Cononie, adding that hospitals and police agencies typically will try to get homeless patients to a shelter before releasing them to the street.
Perez said that once the beating stopped Thursday morning, he uncovered his wounded face and saw three men, who looked like they were under the age of 20, running to the church parking lot toward a white, unmarked van.
“I don’t know how I was able to get up,” said Perez, who walked to the sidewalk and flagged down a crew of firefighters.
Now, he’s just grateful to be alive.
“It’s not easy trying to survive on the streets,” he said.