Sharing Stories Peace of Mind Blog

Mental Health Program In The Homeless Community

Partnerships and CREATOR Trainer Deidre Fraser started leading workshops in Skid Row after seeing a post by Pasadena-Altadena Community Youth Association searching for someone to lead a reflective arts experience.

Skid Row is a homeless community of approximately 11,000 people in downtown Los Angeles. It is the largest homeless community in the United States of America. Some people find themselves there for a brief period of time, others were born in Skid Row and have lived there well into adulthood. 

Of course, we know the standard losses of homelessness: of shelter, showers, and security. The loss of personal belongings and general access to medicine and everyday necessities. Yet, what had not weighed on me was the loss in personal cultivation and expression. When she took out the instruments, people gravitated to Deidre. They were so excited to try all the instruments and begin making music. Many participants in the workshop were musicians who, since being homeless, lost the opportunity to play. 

As Deidre facilitated Rhythm and Color, a workshop about building community and making music, a participant exclaimed, “This instrument sounds like our feet on the sidewalk!” which prompted another person to reply, “We are making music every day!” 

There are a lot of preconceived notions about homeless people. That they’re milking a system. That they choose to be. That this is in some way their fault. We cannot become so removed.  People who are homeless feel all the same things we do. They feel fear and sadness and also they laugh. They dream. They imagine their future. 

The worst of all preconceived notions is that homelessness is an unsolvable problem. There are more abandoned houses than there are homeless people in the United States. You’ve seen it in your neighborhood. We wake up to find new apartment buildings have sprouted from the ground. We keep building and building. So tell me why this phenomena exists?  I need you to read every word I am writing, so I will not ask you to close your eyes. But I will ask you now to imagine a world where everyone has access to the resources they need. Where everyone has access to mental healthcare. To love and acceptance. A place where they know they can ask for help and feel safe. Where there is no stigma of poverty. 

The relationship between mental health and homelessness is a two way street. Some individuals living with severe mental illness cannot receive treatment and end up homeless. In other situations, the effects of homelessness tax the individual emotionally. The constant worry about resources stresses them beyond all measure. The rejection they feel from the world around them is devastating. 

Every person deserves love. 

Every person deserves to love themselves. 

Every person must know that they matter. 

Deidre plans to continue running workshops in Skid Row, providing an outlet for self expression and community engagement. A place to be vulnerable and feel connected. 

I’m grateful everyday to work for PeaceLove. This job which always creates opportunities for me to think about myself, the world, and my place in it. To constantly work with people like Deidre, who through simple conversations are changing the way I think about the world. During our phone call she said something to me that keeps forcing its way into my thoughts about the power and importance of community. You know how once you notice something, you start to see it everywhere? More and more I see the importance of community. I am someone who tends to fold inward. I get stressed or busy and collapse into my life and thoughts. Secretly, like all of us, I am scared of the rejection that could occur if I put myself out there. As I researched for this post, I found myself heartbroken by the stories of homeless people in the United States. The stories of homeless families, homeless veterans, and homeless LGBTQ youth.  I see how large the world’s problems are, and how small my hands are, and it hurts. I feel the most dangerous thing in the world: hopeless. 

Getting to know Deidre has instilled something electric in me. No problem is solved by closing the shades and giving up. If every single one of us tried to change just the lives of the people close to us, we would be changing the world. LA is not the only town that has a homeless population. Every single town does. Even yours. Become a resource in your community. Everyone deserves access to love and support.

See a video from Deidre’s Rhythm and Color workshop in Skid Row!


Victoria Rose is a writer and musician from Providence, Rhode Island.