Despite attack by homeless man, 'NCIS' star remains a fearless advocate

Hollywood actress helps the homeless
Hollywood actress helps the homeless

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Hollywood actress helps the homeless 02:33

Story highlights

  • In November, a homeless man accosted Pauley Perrette and gave her a terrible beating
  • Perrette is still on the streets of Los Angeles to help count the homeless so funds can be better allocated
  • Los Angeles has declared a state of emergency regarding the homeless to free up money

Hollywood, California (CNN)Huddled on a sidewalk a few blocks from the home of the Academy Awards, a woman named Raquel waits on a dream. Not of fame and fortune but of family.

Raquel, who is homeless, believes her husband and child will meet her at this very spot beneath flashy billboards touting the next blockbuster film.
There's just one problem: Raquel's family has been gone for years. Still, she sits covered in blankets, refusing to move. No matter the temperature, Hollywood is a cold place for Raquel.
    "I love you," says a woman passing by. Suddenly, a sense of family emerges.
    "They are human beings," says the woman. The woman wrapping her arms around Raquel is Pauley Perrette, an actress who plays Abby Sciuto on the CBS drama "NCIS."
    Perrette lives in Hollywood and has become a well-known homeless advocate. She has tried to get Raquel into housing, but she resists, fearing her family won't find her. All Perrette can do now is offer her support. She leans in for a hug.
    "They are our brothers and sisters," Perrette said. "They all are."
    In more than 15 years in Hollyood, Perrette hasn't changed her mind about that -- even after one of those "brothers" nearly took her life.

    'My name is William, and I'm going to kill you'

    When Perrette stepped out of her home at the base of the Hollywood Hills, homeless advocacy was not on her mind. On a November evening last year, Perrette was walking a few blocks to meet her architect about a remodeling project. She is, after all, a successful actress on a show that just celebrated its 300th episode.
    In just moments, though, her "Hollywood" life would give way to the perils of living in the real Hollywood.
    "There was a man walking towards me, and in a second he grabbed my arm and had me pinned," Perrette recalls. "He said, 'My name is William, and I'm going to kill you.' "
    She says the man punched her in the face repeatedly, saying "this is how I'm going to kill you; look how easy it is."
    She prayed; he repeated his name out loud. Perrette instinctively used that as a way to appeal to the man's emotions.
    "I said to him 'William's a beautiful name; I have a little nephew named William,' " Perrette said. "For whatever reason, he went to go punch me one more time, and he said 'get the f*** out of here,' and I did."
    She called the police and a friend but knew the man was headed toward Hollywood Boulevard where thousands of people lined the streets. Perrette sketched a rough image of the man and gave it to James Logan, her friend, who headed down the street.
    "I passed 30 people on the street, and none of them looked like the drawing," Logan said. "As I turned on Hollywood Boulevard, I looked up, and there was the guy. I just knew it was him."
    Logan says he shouted from his car: "William!" The man turned but didn't engage with the person shouting at him. Logan got out of his car and snapped a photo of the man, then texted it to Perrette.
    Logan's phone rang. Perrette's name was on the caller ID, but on the other end of the line was the police. They confirmed it: Logan had just found Perrette's alleged attacker, and they were on their way.
    Police made the arrest, soon learning the man's name was not William but David Merck. He pleaded not guilty to charges of false imprisonment by violence and is now awaiting trial.
    Even so, Perrette calls him a victim in all this, too.
    "It was heartbreaking to me to think about him, wandering around on the street," she said. "He needs help. I needed help that day, but he needs help, and he's not the only one."

    No stranger in Hollywood

    Though Perrette had never met Merck before, he was no stranger to many in Hollywood -- even making a list of 14 people who most concerned local community groups.
    Amie Quigley of Hollywood First Presbyterian Church's community outreach confirmed to CNN that she had called police several times about Merck, as recently as a few days before the attack on Perrette.
    "It turns out that he was missing for 14 years, and his family didn't know where he was," Perrette said.
    It's the kind of story repeated often in Los Angeles: People come from all over the country, in some cases seeking warm weather, in other cases seeking fame, and sometimes they have an illness or lost a job and just couldn't catch up. And when people fall in Los Angeles, they can fall hard given the city's housing crisis. Rent in the city is among the highest in the nation.
    In addition, some experts say recent efforts to relieve jail overcrowding have caught the system off guard, and it's unable to handle the influx of people whose drug addiction and mental illness keep them from returning as productive members of society.
    "We do have the answers, and the primary answer is the availability of affordable housing," said Mollie Lowery of Housing First, an advocacy group that believes in getting even those with addictions into government-supported housing. "We have not put the resources and political will behind this issue."
    Los Angeles seems poised to change that by declaring a state of emergency that would free up more than $100 million to pump into a fix. Hawaii, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, have enacted similar measures, likening the homeless crisis in America to a natural disaster.
    Now, homeless advocates are waiting to see how these jurisdictions spend the money, while many in Los Angeles doubt whether the money exists to sustain a long-term fix.
    At the moment, that's not Perrette's concern as she walks the streets of Hollywood in late January two months after her attack. She's one of about 100 volunteers who joined the LAPD to count homeless people so the county can allocate funds based on accurate data.
    "Are you guys OK in there?" Perrette shouts into a tent full of people.
    "Yeah, we're just trying to stay warm."
    When a man in another tent seems suspicious of the group's intentions, Perrette assures him she is here to help.
    "We're trying to get you funding, I promise!" she said.