Wednesday , August 17 2022
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Anthem Film Review: ‘Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope’

How do you solve the homelessness problem in the United States? Throw more money at it? The answer, from the film Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope: Absolutely not. The film explores this issue on a non-partisan and yet very personal level.

Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope won the Best Short Documentary award at the Anthem Film Festival, part of FreedomFest. The event ran this year from July 13-16 at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

The film contrasts alternative approaches taken in San Francisco, California, and San Antonio, Texas. In the film, homeless advocate Mary Theroux talks with a wide range of people with firsthand knowledge of the homeless crisis. She speaks with currently and formerly homeless people, service providers, policy makers, experts in addiction and mental illness, law enforcement officers, and political leaders.

What Happened?

Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope begins with Theroux on the streets of San Francisco, a city that she loved. She recalls, “California really was the Golden State when I arrived in the ’70s. Everything seemed possible. There was so much optimism.” Arriving as a college dropout, she eventually completed her degree and began a grocery delivery business. She laments that, “These days, San Francisco has become ground zero for our nation’s homelessness crisis.”

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Mary Theroux brought her dreams to San Francisco in the 1970s

Theroux wanted to understand what had happened to her city. Although between 2017 and 2019 nationwide homelessness slightly decreased, in San Francisco the homeless population increased 31 percent to over 10,000 people, while state and local spending on the issue continued to rise.

Theroux set out to make sense of this apparent contradiction.

Two Strategies

The approach in California, and most other areas, has been “housing first.” The intension is to then follow up with supportive services. Providing shelter for the homeless seems like a logical first step. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the government process, tent communities in San Francisco have ended up costing $60,000 per tent. Hardly any funding remains after that for other efforts.

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“Safe” homeless camp in San Francisco

Theroux interviewed Dr. Drew Pinsky who observed, “This is what people miss about drug addiction. Drug addiction is a progressive disorder that ends in death.” He commented, “I wish we would stop calling this ‘homelessness’ and call it what it is, open air asylums and shooting galleries. Leaving people untreated is murder.”

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Dr. Drew Pinsky sharing concerns about homelessness

San Antonio took a different approach. Local business leaders established a cooperative of many different community organizations. They came together to provide a center for treating the problems which were driving people into homelessness: the Haven for Hope. Initially, non-profits were reluctant to join, thinking their individual efforts would be overwhelmed. But, by bringing multiple groups together, the Haven for Hope created a synergy. It now helps 1,700 people at a time with aid from 184 partners, 70 of whom offer services on its campus.

Since the program began, it has reduced homelessness in downtown San Antonio by 77 percent, while saving money for EMS, hospitals, and police. Over the same period, San Francisco’s homelessness increased 80%, while spending grew more than 100%.

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Haven for Hope in San Antonio is solving homelessness in that city

Praising Mary

The audience at Anthem Film Festival had many questions after the screening for Theroux and the film’s producer, John Papola.

Before getting into the Q&A, Papola paid tribute to Theroux.

He said, “This is all about Mary’s passion. One of the things this film is about is sticking your neck out for things you believe in. You can see her compassion. Be prepared to put yourself out there. We are in a bad position in this country when it comes to courage. I had one discussion with Mary, and I saw her passion and I knew we should make this film. We need to have the courage to make changes in this country.”

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Homeless advocate Mary Theroux answers audience questions at Anthem Film Festival

More Questions

An audience member asked if the root cause was inappropriate drug prescriptions by doctors.

Theroux said, “There are many reasons, even childhood trauma. Fentanyl is really contributing to this. It’s 40 times as strong as heroin. I’m not for prohibition, but we have to educate people. Even marijuana is so strong now. Drugs could be legal, but that doesn’t mean you should use them.”  

Another audience member asked about how much mental illness contributed to the problem.

Theroux explained, “When President Kennedy got mental hospitals defunded in 1963, nothing was done for provisioning of people being let out of mental institutions. Nothing covers mental health care very well. We have to get that taken care of. A lot of it begins with mental health and then the drugs are creating more mental health problems.”

Another audience member wanted to know how to build a program like the one in San Antonio. “Where do you start?”

Theroux suggested that finding a business leader in the community to back the project was a first step. She pointed to an irony in San Francisco: “There is a business leader supporting a tax to deal with homelessness and Mayor London Breed is against it.”

To view the trailer and find out how to watch the film, check this website.

For more information on the Anthem Film Festival check its website and Facebook page.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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