A New Face for ‘The Stunt Bum’
by Jaymi Berbert


The man who once drunkenly proclaimed “BFK for life!” while displaying knuckles freshly tattooed with the letters “B-U-M-F-I-G-H-T” is now leading an entirely new movement on behalf of the thousands of homeless people across the nation.

Rufus Hannah–formerly known as “Rufus The Stunt Bum” of the underground phenomenon “Bumfights”–joined a panel discussion on the evening of April 29th in Embarcadero Hall entitled “Faces of Homelessness”. The event was hosted by the UCSB Community Affairs Board (CAB) in order to help replace existing stereotypes with a better understanding homelessness.

Hannah shared the stage with three other panelists: Joann Jackson, a 61-year-old woman from Washington, D.C. who had been homeless for several years, Sal, a representative from Transition House in Santa Barbara, and Olivia, a local mother of four. About 40 students and community members attended.

“Three and a half million people experienced homelessness last year. Nearly 1.3 million of them are children,” said Michael O’Neill, director of Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, a division of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Four hundred thousand of the homeless are also veterans, and 1,500 have served in the war in Iraq, according to O’Neill.

The real cause for concern at this event was the recent escalation of attacks against homeless people. According to the 2007 Hate Crimes Report, there were 774 attacks and 217 deaths last year, a dramatic increase from 150 attacks and 28 deaths the previous year. Most of the attacks are committed by 13-19 year olds. A 60 Minutes clip provided a backdrop for the frightening situation that homeless people find themselves in.

“Over the past 5 years, at least one homeless person has been killed per month, for no apparent reason. Homeless advocates say that if any other group were being targeted like this there would be a national outcry,” explained the video report. Also cited was the example of Jeffrey Spurgeon and three other teens from Florida who found a homeless man in the woods and beat him to death. They have been sentenced to over 30 years in prison.

Spurgeon said that he and his friends often watched the “Bumfights” videos for fun. These videos, featuring homeless people fighting each other, performing dangerous stunts like being pushed down a flight of concrete stairs in a shopping cart, and being bound and gagged while sleeping by the “Bum Hunter”, have sold over 300,000 copies, and are currently featured in 1,150 YouTube videos. Ryan McPherson, one of the producers of “Bumfights”, commented on 60 Minutes, “we’re merely exposing something that I don’t think a lot of people know exists. I think it’s interesting.”

Hannah has come to regret the stunts that he participated in for “Bumfights” and has spent the last few years getting clean, staying sober, and getting a job. The clean-cut, well-spoken man on the stage was almost impossible to recognize. “I hate the word ‘bum’,” he began, as he delved into his life experience. He began drinking at age 14, was married and a “blackout drinker” at 18, and had a child at 20. After a divorce, a medical discharge from army training, many nights spent in jail for a DUI and public intoxication, and a couple job offers that fell through, Hannah found himself homeless and an alcoholic in San Diego. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how many times I lay there at night and had a gun to my head, or a knife or a stick or something done to me,” he said.

One day, Hannah was approached by McPherson and his infamous exploits began. He was paid a few dollars or alcohol for various stunts, but never received any of the profits or the more than one million dollars that the rights to “Bumfights” were sold for.

After getting clean in a veteran’s center, Hannah worked with Stand Down, a program that provides services for needy veterans, for 12 years and has recently been fighting to pass legislation that would classify attacks against homeless people as hate crimes. The Rufus Hannah Act in California would achieve this goal. There are a handful of other states with pending legislation of this kind, as well as possible federal laws that have still not garnered enough support to pass.

Currently, in Santa Barbara as well as most cities, it is illegal for the homeless to sleep in parks, and many larger cities have anti-feeding ordinances to prohibit giving food to the homeless. A woman in the audience of the event commented on the disappearance of BBQ pits in Anisq’Oyo park. She said that a police officer informed her that these pits were being put to “inappropriate use”- keeping the homeless warm.

The closest homeless shelters to Isla Vista are currently in downtown Santa Barbara. But the local St. Mark’s Catholic Church provides daily lunches for the homeless and St. Athanasius Orthodox Church provides dinners on Mondays. Anyone interested in volunteering to help should contact these organizations, or CAB (as.ucsb.edu/cab). Other opportunities to volunteer can be found at transitionhouse.com, or by contacting the National Coalition for the Homeless (nationalhomeless.org).

According to Olivia, who became homeless after leaving a domestic violence situation and needed help from Transition House in order to keep a roof over her and her children’s heads, “you never know when something like this is gonna happen, or why.”