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What to do when you encounter someone in a full mental health crisis

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12:  Homeless people sit near a mural after waking up before dawn to dismantle their beds and encampments before businesses open October 12, 2007 in the downtown Skid Row area of Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles city officials recently settled a 2003 lawsuit brought by advocates for homeless skid row residents who complained of being arrested for sleeping on sidewalks, despite having nowhere else to go. Under the new deal, people can sleep on Los Angeles sidewalks between 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. as long as they do not block doorways or driveways, or completely block the sidewalk. Los Angeles is often referred to as the homeless capital of the nation because of its estimated 40,144 people living on city streets and 73,000 homeless spread across the county, according to recent figures attributed to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, The 73,000 homeless include 10,000 minors, 24,505 people suffering from a mental illness, 8,453 military veterans, and nearly 7,200 victims of domestic abuse.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
Homeless people sit near a mural after waking up before dawn to dismantle their beds and encampments before businesses open in the downtown L.A.

After a senior was viciously attacked in broad daylight in downtown L.A., residents wonder and worry. How would you handle the situation?

On Saturday afternoon, a man was brutally beaten while walking down the street in downtown Los Angeles. He was punched, kicked and left bleeding on the sidewalk. The attack was only stopped when a security guard at the nearby Whole Foods intervened.

The victim, who is a senior, is in critical condition.

The perpetrator is a mentally unstable transient who was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Whether he's mentally stable enough to understand his actions, let alone stand trial for them, is another matter.

The violence of this incident is uncommon but as anyone who frequents downtown, which is home to L.A.'s Skid Row, can confirm: encountering homeless people who are mentally ill, on drugs, or both does happen.

After the attack last weekend,  people are understandably nervous.

While not everyone who is mentally unstable is dangerous, Joey Aguilar from the Skid Row Housing Trust, which provides services including housing and mental health care, has a few tips to stay safe.

  • Prioritize removing yourself from a situation where you see someone is agitated, raising their voice or invading your personal space.
  • Don't be a superhero and cross the street if necessary to create more distance between you and the other person. Trust your gut if it feels unsafe. 
  • Resist the urge to calm or reason with an agitated person, and remain calm and collected yourself. Leave it to the professionals.
  • Call 911 if the situation is life-threatening. If you are in near Skid Row, you can also call an outreach team at 213.680.6333. Each team is staffed by a mental health specialist, a nurse, a substance abuse counselor and more.
  • Describe the situation and emphasize you're calling for help.
  • If you are able to wait for the responders, stay at a safe distance and do not attempt to engage or subdue a person.
  • The best way to help a person who seems mentally ill is to get involved with a local agency that provides support and solutions to them, such as the Skid Row Housing Trust
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