DAILY SIGNAL: Solving the Homelessness Problem in San Francisco

In this Saturday edition of “The Daily Signal Podcast,” Mary Theroux discusses her work to relieve the plight of the homeless in San Francisco by attempting to heal issues in their lives that led them to this condition.

Theroux is board chairman and CEO of the Independent Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Oakland, California. She is a producer of the new documentary film “Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope.”

Arguing that the “Housing First” policy approach doesn’t work, Theroux observes that “this one-size-fits-all policy that the federal government is imposing does not address the underlying issues.”

“So people may get into housing, but they’re still traumatized, they may still be addicted, they may still be suffering for mental illness,” she says. “And so they’ll likely fall out of housing. They’re not prepared to live independently. Plus, they may be living in an apartment complex with other people who have very serious problems, and it turns out to be a very unpleasant place to live. So they’ll leave, as the streets are better.”

Clearly, we’re going to need better solutions. This conversation highlights many of those.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Richard Reinsch: Hello, this is Richard Reinsch and welcome to this Saturday edition of “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Today, I’m talking with Mary Theroux about a new documentary she helped produce entitled “Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope.” Mary is chairman of the Board of Directors and chief executive officer of the Independent Institute. She is also managing director of Lightning Ventures LP, a San Francisco Bay investment firm, and vice president of the C.S. Lewis Society. And she is heavily involved with The Salvation Army. In California, she has extensive business experience and writing experience and was formerly the president and CEO of San Francisco Grocery Express. Mary, thank you so much for coming on to the program.

Mary Theroux: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Reinsch: So Mary, this documentary “Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope” focuses heavily on the homelessness situation in San Francisco. There’s been a lot of national press coverage of this problem in San Francisco from a lot of different angles. I’ve read about it. I think people have read about different aspects of why there’s a homelessness situation, why it’s so extensive, and also a lot of the fallout and negative externalities for the city of San Francisco. You’ve been in the Bay Area since the mid-1970s. How did you get interested in this problem?

Theroux: I first got involved because of my involvement with The Salvation Army. … I’ve been on the board of the San Francisco Salvation Army for, oh, I don’t know, about 25 years. And about four years ago, we did a strategic planning session to look at where we could have a differentiated impact in the city, and obviously homed in on homelessness as an area in which we thought we could have a very positive and large impact.

We formed a little task force to work on it. We meet weekly and go through planning to redevelop The Salvation Army’s properties to have residential, long-term, transformational programming, to take people from the street to achieve their full potentials.

And as a researcher, I was tasked by the task force to provide some background information on the causes of homelessness and importantly, what seemed to be the better approaches and the worse approaches. And the more I looked into it, the less sense it made. San Francisco and California spending on homelessness is gigantic and growing.

Current city spending is estimated at $1.2 billion a year, and yet homelessness is exploding by double digits annually. San Francisco is sort of ground zero for homelessness, as you mentioned. If anybody’s doing a story on homelessness, they just have to bring a camera crew to San Francisco and they can virtually turn on their camera anywhere and capture the kinds of horrific images that are in the documentary.

So we figured if we could show how to impact [homelessness] positively here, it could absolutely ripple across the country and hopefully transform the way that we approach homelessness across the country.

Reinsch: When you came to the Bay Area in the mid-1970s, what did you see? What did you experience? How has the city changed? I mean, in many ways over the decades, but with regard to the homelessness situation, did San Francisco become ground zero because local government, state government incentivized it?

Theroux: When I came out here in the mid-’70s, I couldn’t believe any place could be so beautiful and so full of optimism and hope and enterprise. I mean, it was just absolutely booming. Everybody was coming into California. There was a lot of sort of pride a[among] native Californians. They’d tell you right away, “Oh, I’m a native Californian” and so on, to differentiate themselves from all of us who were coming in from all over the country.

So it’s been very shocking to watch the decline. And as you know, I had a business in San Francisco delivering groceries across the city in the ’80s. And again, it was just such a vibrant time. The city was so beautiful. Just seemed like the possibilities were endless.

The Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco has always been something of where the drug trade, the sex trade, and the people who sleep in the street have kind of been concentrated. In the ’80s and ’90s, The Salvation Army operated an emergency overnight shelter there, as did other places. Glide [Memorial] Church, which was portrayed in [the movie] “The Pursuit of Happyness,” importantly, and others. And we’re meeting the needs pretty well. It wasn’t that big of a problem.

The problem really started, and it’s not just local. It really was a shift in federal policy, which has had an outsize impact on localities, outsize [in] the amount of dollars, federal dollars, that are involved. But starting under the [President George] W. Bush administration, then really taking charge under [President Barack] Obama, there was a huge shift in policy around homelessness, from shelter and transitional housing to what’s called permanent supportive housing or Housing First.

The theory there was, and again, the nomenclature also changed, suddenly people were called homeless [and] it wasn’t called that before. So the theory was well, they’re homeless. So if you give them a home, you’ve solved the problem.

The problem with tackling it with the Housing First or permanent supportive approach is it takes the government a very long time to build new housing, which is not affordable. Especially here in California, where it’s almost impossible to build anything. Even though it’s the government who wants to build these developments, they get bogged down.

And then they’re also incredibly expensive. They range from a low of $500,000 per unit. One unit generally holds one person. Up to current developments that are running $900,000 per unit. So it’s incredibly expensive. They take years, I mean, literally seven to eight years to come online. So there’s not very much of it.

And meanwhile, the streets are the waiting room. There are no more shelters, or very few shelters. Transitional housing got a bad name, so it has been largely abandoned. So that’s really what’s led to the explosion of homelessness here and increasingly across the country. It’s driven by this very bad federal policy that needs to be revised.

Reinsch: So is this coming through HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]?

Theroux: Yeah.

Reinsch: OK. And the idea being, if you build homes, that’s a compassionate move and we’ll remove them from the streets. But what do we know? I mean, help us understand, who are the homeless? What’s their lifestyle? What are things rendering them homeless?

Theroux: That was probably the most eye-opening thing making the documentary. Let me just back up. So Independent Institute decided to do a policy report on the issue, as we found it to be so much more complex than is generally thought. I mean, a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s just a problem of housing.” Where other people say, “Oh, it’s just a problem of addiction or mental illness,” or so on.

And the more we looked into it, we realized, “Yes, it is those things, but it’s many other things as well.” And importantly, we wanted to include in our policy report, which is forthcoming as a book “Beyond Homeless: Transformative Solutions for the Bay Area and Beyond,” to include solutions. So that was a very important part of the project.

And then subsequently, the documentary. We decided, “Well, books and policy reports are very important. You need to have that authority with which to go forth and propose policy changes.” But we also wanted the general public and the culture to understand who the homeless are and why people have become homeless and so on. And felt that a short documentary was the best approach to that.

Somehow or another, I ended up being the host of it and doing the on-the-ground research and interviews, and learned so much. And basically what I learned is there are about as many reasons for becoming homeless as there are individuals who are experiencing homelessness. There are incredible stories. The stories I was told by people of really horrific childhoods. Childhood trauma is a huge driver of homelessness.

I just came to the conclusion that there, but for the grace of God, go I. I was fortunate to be loved and wanted. And so many people in our country are just suffering from not being loved, not being wanted and growing up in violent and traumatic experiences. So that’s a huge driver.

And then childhood trauma also drives mental illness. And of course, addiction. There’s also economic … Certainly there are people who are suffering from economic setbacks that become homeless, families and so on. And then there are veterans who also are similarly traumatized.

So there are a lot of reasons. And this one-size-fits-all policy that the federal government is imposing does not address the underlying issues. So people may get into housing, but they’re still traumatized, they may still be addicted, they may still be suffering from mental illness. And so they’ll likely fall out of housing. They’re not prepared to live independently. Plus they may be living in an apartment complex with other people who have very serious problems, and it turns out to be a very unpleasant place to live. So they’ll leave, as the streets are better.

The name, Housing First, and permanent supportive housing implies that they’re going to provide services, support, [to] provide the kind of recovery and mental illness and life skills training and workforce development that is needed for people to get back on their feet. But the services are not provided.

So it’s just a vicious circle. Social workers call it a washing machine where people go between the streets and programs and housing and back into the streets. And it’s just a spiraling crisis here in California and increasingly across the country.

Reinsch: So we’ve talked about building homes and that doesn’t seem to work well. What are the other sort of major policy solutions that the city of San Francisco or other cities have thought of this problem? And I ask this, you focus on San Francisco in the documentary. Homelessness is obviously a rising concern in many large cities. I’m in Washington. Being in the city pre-COVID versus post-COVID seems dramatically different. A lot of that is the homeless population seems to have swelled. This seems to be pervasive throughout the country. What do you make of this growing problem?

Theroux: Well, nobody’s doing anything to help people transform their lives. So as part of the project, again, we were looking for solutions. I went around the country and visited a lot of programs and there are really wonderful programs, almost everywhere. But generally speaking, they’re helping 20 people, or 100 people, or one segment of the population.

And the only place I found in the whole country that’s solving the problem on a communitywide basis at scale is San Antonio, Texas, which interestingly did the exact opposite of the rest of the country almost simultaneously with the shift in policy, nationwide policy, to Housing First. By a coincidence in 2005, 2006, an oilman in San Antonio saw a news program on homelessness in San Antonio. The week before, the mayor had given his State of the City address and had raised the growing specter of homelessness as a challenge to the community to help.

So the day after the oilman saw the special report on homelessness, he called up the mayor whose election he had opposed. It’s kind of an interesting dynamic there. He said, “Are you serious about wanting to do something about homelessness?” And the mayor said, “Yes, I am.” So the oilman said, “Well, I want to help.” So the mayor immediately appointed him chairman of a task force.

And they brought in community activists, representatives from the public sector, the nonprofit sector, and so on. They spent two years studying programs around the country and coming up with a strategic, well-designed, totally comprehensive approach called Haven for Hope that opened in 2010. And again, at a time when the rest of the country was going to Housing First, San Antonio and Haven for Hope went to transformational, residential programming with the services, recovery, life skills training, workforce development, and so on that addressed the root causes of homelessness.

And the results have been stark. Downtown San Antonio has seen a decline in it’s unsheltered homeless by 77% at a time that the city of San Francisco’s numbers have gone up by 80%. Countywide, Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, has gone down by 11%. Whereas the rest of the country has just exploded. So it’s a very stark, real world contrast of two policies. And I think the results speak for themselves.

Reinsch: One question I had watching the documentary about the San Antonio situation is who funded that and what was the cost? And also you note the success; is it hard to replicate? Was it something about the community in San Antonio and leadership and moving outside of the federal-state policy nexus, that it’s hard to get people to think at that level?

Theroux: Yes. All of those are great points. So the campuses for Haven for Hope cost $100 million when it was built in 2010, $60 million of it was raised privately to build the buildings. And the city bought the land for about 30, 35 million. $100 million is kind of a flash in the pan for most communities these days in what’s spent on homelessness. At any given time [in San Antonio], they have 1,700 people on campus. And again, it’s a total community solution.

Yes, it did take civic leadership that’s unique. And that’s one of the challenges we’re facing here in San Francisco is looking for who can be our civic leaders, who could lead an initiative such as this and have the political will. The biggest challenge is not the money. The biggest challenge is getting everybody to work together. And Haven brought every nonprofit in the city that works with the homeless into its orbit. And they all worked together. They didn’t want to. as is natural, all fear that, “Oh, if I become part of this overall thing, I’m going to lose my donors. I’m going to lose my autonomy and so on.”

There was a certain amount of pressure that was brought to bear. The oilman had been very philanthropic, and he told his causes that they needed to be part of this. And then of course, the city also said … Cities fund a lot of nonprofits, and they also said, look, you have to be a part of this. Ten years later, all of the agencies involved are singing its praise. They all are doing better than they were. They’re achieving their missions. They’re thriving. They love it.

But here in San Francisco, we face the problem where in the documentary, you may have noticed, everybody talks about how siloed the city is with the city not talking to nonprofits, nonprofits not talking to one another. And they just play whack-a-mole. They just throw, as I said, $1.2 billion around. Apparently they’re funding up to 600 different nonprofits in the city. There’s no coordination, there’s no strategy. It’s just “Let’s throw more money over here. Let’s throw more money over there.”

And the problem is, the results speak for themselves. We have huge growing numbers of homelessness. And more importantly, it’s just a tragic situation, the conditions under which people are living either in the street, or in the housing that the city’s providing for them, are Third World or worse.

Reinsch: Many people would say a progressive answer would be, and we’ve been talking about this, but just the economy. And of course … we’ve been talking about how building new homes doesn’t do anything, but that there’s something unjust about America’s economy that leads to a homelessness problem and situation. I was going to ask, and I’m sure you’ve thought about this: It seems that in San Francisco, maybe other cities, Seattle comes to mind with the pervasive homelessness problem. Is there now sort of a public interest or a public choice problem that the bureaucracies are now funded by the government, the government bureaucracies have their own preferences, and they’re just sort of baked into this path for largely self-interested reasons, and can’t conceive a new way to think about this problem? And they’re not going to be rewarded or incentivized for doing that either.

Theroux: That’s absolutely the case. There are a lot of vested interests who have a lot to lose by changing their narrative. I think they’re all well-meaning people, they think what they’re doing is the right approach. It’s almost religion housing versus literally almost a religion under the Trump administration. The U.S. … let’s see, Interagency Council on Homelessness released a study called “Expanding the Toolbox,” which was proposing adding other approaches to the Housing First, adding transitional housing, adding shelter, adding recovery services and so on.

The response by sort of the homeless vested interest was there was a 5-minute video they released. And literally about all they said was studies show that Housing First helps everybody. And studies don’t show that Housing First helps everybody. In fact, studies increasingly show the opposite. They show that people in Housing First die at a higher rate than people who stay unhoused. And that for every person you house, you have multiple others who become unhoused and so on.

But it’s just this dogma. And all you do is repeat the mantra of Housing First helps everybody.

The good news, and the reason I’m optimistic, is that viewpoint is changing. A couple of years ago when we were really starting to have conversations around the redevelopment that The Salvation Army is planning in San Francisco to again, offer transformational residential programming, to help people achieve their full potential. You’d be in conversations with people from other agencies and talk about recovery and people would just gasp and think it was just dreadful that you were thinking about taking adults and suggesting that they ought not be addicted.

It was just that it’s a civil right to use drugs, and adults have a choice to use drugs and the harm reduction approach, which is what the status quo model is, is to make using drugs safer. So you give people clean needles. You give people information on how to smoke fentanyl safely. You pass out Narcan widely so that if somebody’s overdosing, you can reverse their overdose. But recovery was a dirty word. Increasingly, recovery is in the conversations.

The other thing was that anything other than permanent supportive housing, if you talked about building shelter, or especially if you talked about building transitional or transformational housing, it was just, “Oh no, we need permanent supportive housing. We need permanent supportive housing. We need permanent supportive housing.” And increasingly there’s an openness to, well, that’s not meeting the needs. And yes, maybe we ought to be having shelters, tiny homes, transitional housing, and other.

So I’m very optimistic about the fact that this dialogue has opened up beyond the very narrow Housing First harm reduction only. And again, I’m not saying Housing First should be abandoned, but it should be used for the people for whom it’s appropriate. But a lot of people need a lot of services to ready them for being in housing on their own. And we need to be providing those services.

Reinsch: As you say, recovery is now back in the conversation. I mean, that just sounds insane to me.

Theroux: I know.

Reinsch: I’m a hardheaded conservative and so I think, yeah, of course. And it’s because we believe in the dignity of the human person that we want them to recover. We don’t want to watch them slow-cook themselves to death on drugs. And we assume people have some element of choice and with the right help, encouragement, training, healing, they could turn away from that addiction. In the documentary, you have a really hard-hitting interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky and he describes the addiction as “I would like to kill myself. But if I kill myself, I can’t get high on drugs.” That’s how intense it is. That’s what you’re dealing with.

Theroux: So when people talk …. again, when you’re talking to somebody, an advocate for people being allowed to stay on drugs, and again, you’re saying, well, adults make choices.

But if you’re addicted, you’re not able to make a choice. Again, as you allude to in the interview with Dr. Drew, you’re a slave to the drugs. So you’re not making a choice.

Reinsch: When you think about this approach of “use drugs safely” and the methadone clinics or things like that, that’s been a pervasive part then of San Francisco’s approach and I assume many other cities?

Theroux: Yeah. The problem is the methadone clinic is in the middle of the Tenderloin. So you go in for your methadone, you come out and the sidewalk is lined with dealers, with fentanyl dealers. So there you are trying to go through recovery.

Reinsch: Wow.

Theroux: It’s not very conducive to staying the course.

Reinsch: When you hear a comment [or] observation made, particularly after one of these mass shootings, [which is] so different from the homeless. But also you hear it in conversation with the homelessness problem. And that is the decision made in the 1960s called deinstitutionalization, that mental hospitals themselves should be vastly reduced, [that it] should be hard to commit people, to hold them because of reasons of individual autonomy. And many will say, what if we increased bed space for mental hospitals? Do you see that as part of a comprehensive solution?

Theroux: We absolutely need more mental health options in this country. So, yes, it’s true. In 1963, JFK signed the act to defund closed state mental hospitals. His own sister had been committed to one. And then he had an adviser who had spent a summer working in one. And admittedly, a lot of these state hospitals were snake pits. They were not good places. And so it wasn’t an entirely bad decision to close them down.

The problem is that no provision was made for the people who had been in them. So they were released into the community with no care and largely did become homeless. We continue now, this is almost 60 years later, to not have facilities. I’ve talked to countless mothers whose adult children are mentally ill and they can’t get them care. And so they’re adult children are homeless, in danger of dying, and their mothers can do nothing, there are no facilities for them.

I talked to another person who works for the city of San Francisco as a psychiatrist [who] has a caseload of 5,000 people. It’s just ridiculous. And we need outpatient and inpatient facilities available. Europe certainly has led the way on this. And they’ve largely eliminated their street drug and insane asylum scenes, which we have here in the United States. And we need to do the same.

Not everybody has to be … We do have to be very careful about whether people are committed or not, and you have to have extreme checks on committing people. But many people, given the chance, will gladly avail themselves of facilities that help them feel better. And for the very few that will need custodial care, again, we can develop good checks that there are constant tests of is this person ready to live under their own recognizance and care?

Reinsch: In terms of the crisis, I mean, what is it like, what does a person working in downtown San Francisco experience? What you hear is it’s just very evident, and manifest, and there’s really no getting around it if you are working in San Francisco–or Seattle is another city that comes to mind.

Theroux: Again, it used to be very constrained to the Tenderloin neighborhood. So a lot of people were willing to turn a blind eye to it because oh, well, just don’t get to the Tenderloin. But now, it’s literally everywhere. It’s in every neighborhood and it’s just sad. It’s tragic. You walk down the sidewalk and there might be somebody who’s writhing naked under a sheet saying something like, “Please don’t pour water on me.” Just totally mentally ill.

Other people just walking around, talking to themselves, screaming, wielding knives. We have a lot of violence from people experiencing homelessness who are not of their right minds. There are needles everywhere. There’s human waste everywhere. And in their defense, yeah, if you don’t have places, facilities for people to use, then the street’s the only option. And they say, “Well, what are we supposed to do? There’s no place for us to be able to have our hygiene.”

San Francisco used to be widely acknowledged as one of the, if not the most beautiful city in the world. And now it’s just a total wreck and we’ve destroyed our tourism. But most importantly, we’re abandoning thousands of human beings to lives you wouldn’t wish on your dog.

Reinsch: This is San Francisco, Silicon Valley, tech companies, the innovation, the entrepreneurship. Do you see a connection or sort of a detachment or aloofness of California elites from the homelessness problem and the way they try to make a connection is like the spending, the government spending. But [they have] an inability to actually deal with people or engage in the real work of helping people because of what that would require, that sort of peer-to-peer interaction instead of focusing on a progressive egalitarian solution?

Theroux: Unfortunately, a lot of the people in Silicon Valley, contrary to the sort of entrepreneurial ethos, carry with them the mainstream narrative, that this is something that the government can and should be taking care of. We had a very bizarre episode here a few years ago where Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce, put his weight behind a ballot proposition called Prop C, which would tax his own industry, very rich tech companies in San Francisco, to raise an additional $300 million a year to address homelessness.

So here’s the billionaire backing attacks on himself. And meanwhile, the progressive mayor, London Breed, is out saying, “No, no, don’t do this. We’re not accounting for the money we have well currently, and this will cost jobs that our city needs.”

So it was like this looking glass world where the progressive mayor is saying, no, don’t pass the tax. And the businessman is saying pass the tax. Well, unfortunately, it passed. And so now, yeah, there’s another $300 million a year. And so far the results are not in. So it’s a mixed-up narrative.

Again, I think … there are cracks starting to appear in that. And we’re very hopeful that we can build some coalitions around adding very important aspects to our homelessness environment, to effectively address the root causes and get people transformed.

Reinsch: There’s substantial federal dollars coming in … to the state and local budgets in California. I assume if they embrace that policy …

Theroux: The funny thing is, it’s not the majority of the funding. And it has an outsize impact, but the state has embraced it fully. And the city has embraced it fully.

The federal dollars really are not the biggest driver of it. It’s more that this theory took hold and has been widely embraced. I mean, it sounds great. Yes, people are homeless, so give them housing. But it’s turned out not to work.

Reinsch: Sounds like it. … You interviewed a gentleman from The Salvation Army. I take it that there’s not a lot of discussion or learning on this problem it seems, in terms of what nonprofits are doing that’s successful and how that could be scaled. And you talk about the San Antonio approach, yet I didn’t see you in the documentary, here you talk about other cities taking on the San Antonio approach. And it does make you wonder where the discussion and dialogue is happening about solutions.

Theroux: It’s funny, because literally scores of cities and delegations from across the country have toured Haven. Haven is very generous about welcoming people to visit and sharing with them everything they’ve learned over the past 12 years and doing everything they can to encourage others to replicate their model and nobody so far has done it.

And I think it’s just that, again, it’s the vested interest cannot give up their power and their money. It really requires … Haven for Hope is an independent 501(c)(3). Yes, the city’s involved. Yes, every nonprofit agency in the city is almost involved. The police, the fire, EMS, the business community. They have 1,000 volunteers on campus a month and so on. It’s really a communitywide solution. And they all work together very effectively. And most places I think are as San Francisco. We’re in these silos where we don’t want to give up our little fiefdoms.

Most of the nonprofits in San Francisco and other cities that are dealing with the homeless are doing so under government contracts. They do what the contract tells them to do. They take the approach that the contract is written off. Even if people on the ground know this is not the most effective way we could be helping the homeless, it’s what they can get money to do. This government funding of nonprofits has really corrupted our philanthropic sector so much. And when you go to raise money.

So we’ve decided here in San Francisco with The Salvation Army that we’re probably going to have to fund this huge initiative privately. Which I’m all for, because I want us to do it the way we know is right versus the way that the government is funding.

But when you go to private funders and start talking to them, they want to know is the government involved? Why? I think competition is good. We need different models. And then we can see who’s producing the better outcomes. Very few people, the government is certainly not measuring outcomes. When you ask the city of San Francisco what they’re doing, they tell you about all their outputs. “Well, we have X people working on this, we’re spending X dollars. We’re handing out Y numbers of Narcan and so on and so forth.” It’s nothing about what they’re achieving, and we have to start measuring or rewarding those who actually do help people versus the good intentions.

Reinsch: These nonprofits being funded by the government, they would have no incentive to think hard about what they’re doing, to ask themselves if they’re meeting any objectives and retool because that could actually cause them to lose the grant.

Theroux: Yeah. And again, they’re not trying to be corrupted. It’s just that slowly but surely, that’s what happens. “Well, this is what we have funding for. This is the program we’re doing. Let’s concentrate on doing this program as well as we can.” And you never step back and really think about: “Is this the best program we could be offering to produce the results that align with our mission?”

And I have firsthand experience with this. In the late ’90s, the San Francisco Salvation Army lost all of its government funding. And we’ve been doing a lot of programming under government contracts, including Meals on Wheels and an emergency shelter and a detox program, and so on. And because of politics, all of that funding went away, and I saw it as “This is a great opportunity. Let’s regroup, look at what we should be doing and then go out to the community and attract the private support we need to do it.”

And we were highly successful. We redid all of our programs to do a much better job in serving the community. But it’s so easy when you’re nonprofits struggling to get funding. And there’s the government saying, “Hey, we’ve got a $25 million grant. You want to apply for it?” And it’s just so easy for a development officer to go, “Hey, look, free money. Let’s go get it.”

And so it’s a terrible, terrible problem. And we really have to … This is beyond the purview of this conversation, I know, but it really disturbs me.

Reinsch: It affects so many areas throughout our civil society. As we close, thinking about the documentary, “Beyond Homeless,” what is something you’ve learned in researching and putting this documentary together about homelessness that you want other people to know?

Theroux: The biggest thing I’ve learned is, again, it’s an individual problem. People experiencing homelessness are individuals. They have individual stories and they deserve individual care. That is not being provided to them. And the fact that it’s not being provided to them is the reason why we have exploding numbers of homelessness.

We have a terrible problem with families in this country. We are traumatizing children instead of nurturing them. And that’s getting worse and worse as we pile on all of this ideological baggage instead of taking care of nurturing and loving children, and making them know that life has purpose, and they can achieve things in life, and they can overcome challenges.

The second thing that’s very important is that individuals are powerful in coming up with solutions. In San Antonio was literally this one businessman who sparked a movement and working with a mayor who again, was not his political friend, they came together in common cause to resolve their community’s problem.

And that’s the very … tradition that this country was built on. And we need to restore that tradition of where we understand we don’t have to relegate these problems to the government to solve, which they’re not solving. We can come together and we can brainstorm. And we can use our ingenuity to come up with solutions that work in our neighborhood, in our city. And that’s what we’re starting to do in San Francisco.

We’re having meetings with neighborhood groups, people in San Francisco who chose not to leave the city as so many did, [who] are mad and they’re energized and they want to get involved. And that’s exactly what we need to have happen is get people involved, come together, use our brain power and our talents to solve these problems.

Reinsch: Mary Theroux, thank you so much for joining us and for this documentary, “Beyond Homeless: Finding Hope.” We appreciate it so much.

Theroux: Thank you.

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