Recent, seemingly random, brutal attacks by homeless people may have left some Angelenos fearful of the next unprovoked incident.

However, the answer isn’t for everyone to walk around in fear 24/7 or assume that all homeless people have bad intentions.  

Mental health is an issue that continues to plague the L.A. County homeless population. Sometimes, what can be perceived as a violent attack can be a mental health episode, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said.

Jeffery Levine, an advocate who has worked with homeless people for 16 years, uses situational awareness when encountering a homeless person if they are acting erratic. He watches their hands and movements to see if they will attempt to be a threat to him without immediately assuming that something terrible will happen.

“I don’t think we have to pretend that we don’t live in a violent world. I do not think that we need to live in fear, but I think we need to live wisely,” Levine said.

Levine is the executive director of Long Beach Rescue Mission. This Christian faith-based organization assists homeless people by providing housing, meals and programs that address mental health and substance abuse.

Situational awareness can temporarily solve specific instances, but it’s a long shot from solving the homelessness crisis.

The crisis isn’t a new thing to Southern California. Residents have seen many government officials attempt to solve the situation, and while there has been some progress, no solution seems to solve the issue altogether.

A September study from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) showed that the homeless population in L.A. County has increased by 4,1% since 2020.  A study was not conducted in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find a solution, homelessness shouldn’t be regarded as just a housing issue. Levine said.

“It’s not just an economic or housing issue that leads to homelessness. The leading contributing factor to a person experiencing homelessness is childhood trauma,” Levine said.

A 2013 study from The American Journal of Public Health shows that adults that experienced adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, during their childhood experience are more likely to be homeless during their adult life.

Alcoholism or drug abuse can affect homelessness since that person is trying to escape or dull the pain of their trauma, Levine said.

“When I see someone experiencing homelessness or sleeping on the street, the first thing that comes to my mind is this person was once a child and now they are an adult trying to deal with their trauma.”

A multi-layer approach is needed to address the homeless crisis, Levine said.

 “I don’t think it’s just put them in housing; we have to develop a system of care that will address all of those underline contributing factors.”