The death of John Robert McGraham, a homeless man living on the streets of Los Angeles, easily could have been overlooked as just another lost person meeting an unfortunate end. But The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, didn’t stop at the police report.
A report by R.W. Dellinger puts a face on a human being whom some have chosen to look down upon.
The gruesome nature of the way McGraham was killed on Oct. 9 — an attacker poured gasoline on him and then set his ragged clothing on fire as he tried to run away — points to the utter contempt some people hold for homeless people. Even though nearby residents came to McGraham’s aid, he was already badly burned and it was too late to save him.
The Tidings’ story offers its readers a look at McGraham’s life and what caused him to hit the streets. Dellinger also delves into the growing violence being committed against homeless people, many of whom try to live their life in a dignified way despite the harsh realities of a world with no shelter.
One startling statistic Dellinger found comes from the National Coalition for the Homeless. Since the coalition began tracking attacks like the one on McGraham in 1999, there have been nearly 800 such violent acts in 235 cities nationwide. More than 200 people have died in those attacks. Some advocates call such acts hate crimes and attempts are under way to rewrite federal law to reflect those beliefs.
As homelessness comes into focus in our minds as winter descends and the holiday season raises the level of compassion for those less fortunate, The Tidings report provides plenty to think about, pray about and act on.