Over the weekend, three men poured lighter fluid on John Frazier and his belongings as he slept in a sleeping bag at Ventura Beach in California.
A passerby spotted the homeless man on Saturday night and put out the fire, which had turned into five to six foot flames, before calling 911. Frazier’s things were still smoldering when police arrived. While 58-year-old Frazier is expected to survive, he suffered second- and third-degree burns on his face and torso and remains at the hospital.
The suspects have been described as three white males in their late teens or early 20s. While police say they have no motive for the crime, violence against the homeless, often without particular provocation, is extremely common. In 2013, there were at least 109 violent attacks against the homeless committed by non-homeless people, 18 of which were fatal. There have been nearly 1,500 such attacks over the last 15 years, resulting in 375 deaths. The assaults are thought to be motivated only by bias against the homeless and the ease with which they can be targeted, and the assailants are usually men under 30 years old.
It’s a problem that’s getting worse, not going away. The 2013 statistics represented a 24 percent increase over 2012, when there were 88 attacks that included 18 deaths. And even a survey done in 2013 found alarming rates of violence reported by the homeless that seemed to be on the rise.
Life can be even more dangerous for women who have no home. In one survey of San Francisco’s homeless, nearly two out of every three women reported they had been victims of emotional or sexual abuse, with many subjected to multiple kinds.
The FBI doesn’t currently recognize violence against the homeless as a potential hate crime, something advocates are trying to change. But if it did, it would find more violent hate crimes against this group than any other: there were four hate crime murders in 2011 of all other groups, compared to 32 murdered homeless people.