A homeless camp outside of the PATH apartment complex in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2021. Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Tents: A homeless camp outside of the PATH apartment complex in Los Angeles. Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

It is no surprise that the homeless crisis in L.A is taking a toll on the mental health of the unhoused. A 2022 study by the RAND Institute found that 54% reported suffering from a mental health condition and symptoms of depression, stress or anxiety.

But according to a recent LAist survey conducted between Dec. 12 and March 12, 33% of respondents who classified themselves as either homeowners or renters felt homelessness stood as “their biggest personal stressor” with 63% citing it as the top issue for Mayor Karen Bass to prioritize.

In the multiple-choice questionnaire on stress, respondents could select one of a number of options from climate change and commuting to public health and safety. Those who selected homelessness as their top personal stressor reported that they felt “less safe in L.A. because of homelessness” and considered it “a public health issue.” In addition, they reported experiencing stress by simply “seeing so many unhoused Angelenos.”

Amy McManus, a Los Angeles-based licensed marriage and family therapist (LFMT) said her clients have become “increasingly anxious” and concerned about their safety due to the homeless dilemma. Many have contemplated moving out of Los Angeles as a solution to the stress.

“People are especially vulnerable to anxiety right now for a multitude of reasons both personal and global – job insecurity, increased cost of living, political instability, global climate change,” McManus said. “Having so many reasons to be anxious already makes it even harder to have the resources to manage anxiety around perceived threats to personal safety.”

Los Angeles Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Ektha Aggarwal, who is the founder and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services said she found it “encouraging” that the community were able to recognize homelessness as a public safety issue that Mayor Bass needs to rectify as she too has seen an uptick of clients impacted by the growing concern.

“Homelessness takes a significant toll on the mental health and well-being of children and adults, creating a sense of instability, unwavering fear, and vulnerability, even those not directly impacted by a loss of shelter,” Aggarwal said.

McManus noted that with the overload of issues people are facing on a daily basis it is even more important that the solutions created to tackle homelessness are not just temporary fixes.

“People need local leadership to reassure them that there is a plan to take measures that will keep them safe,” McManus said.

Aggarwal added that people are having to deal with moving from a pandemic right into a homeless epidemic that is increasing by an inordinate number of people in the past five years. She explained to the Current that the attempt of those in desperate need to meet basic needs can lead to violent situations and cause fear in the community that can lead to everyday citizens experiencing trauma symptoms such as “heightened anxiety and hyper-vigilance.”

“These issues often compound one another, leading to increased generalized anxiety, paranoia, fear, isolation, and instability among those affected,” Aggarwal said, also adding “It is imperative for policymakers and mental health clinicians to find alignment and collaborate on holistic health and wellness approaches that directly address these challenges collectively to address the root causes of distress and homelessness.”

Magnolia Lafleur

Special to the Daily Press

Published in partnership with the Westside Current