'It is an epidemic': New Bay Area documentary aims to spark discussion, action on homelessness

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The on-going homeless crisis has seemingly taken a back seat to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the pandemic is threatening to make homelessness worse as people can't pay rent and lose their homes. That's an issue central to Building A Better Bay Area.

In the Bay Area, it's a common sight that can lead to a reaction of concern or revulsion. Imagine how the homeless feel.

"You don't have a name. Nobody wants to look at you in the eye. They want to walk by you as quickly as possible," said Denise Brock, who was homeless before becoming a case manager at Flood Ministries.

A team led by Bay Area filmmaker Don Hardy set out on a mission to address this chronic issue by putting a human face to those living in encampments at our doorsteps.

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"It is an epidemic," said Daniel Cooperman of Bay Area Community Services. "It's a crisis, and senior citizens are the most vulnerable."

The result is a documentary series titled "The Way Home." 76-year-old Vernon Boykin from Oakland is among dozens who share how they lost their housing and had no place to go. Gathering their stories wasn't as simple as showing up with a camera and microphone.

"Many times we would leave after a full day without actually filming a bit of footage, but we made some relationships that way," said filmmaker Hardy. "Give a little bit more patience to each other, and you'll be surprised how the connections between human beings will emerge."

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Stories of bad luck alone don't solve homelessness. The series hopes to spark discussion and support for organizations committed to creating housing. That's why Kaiser Permanente helped to fund the project as the pandemic threatens to make even more people homeless.

"We have this twindemic in this country that we're dealing with, and unless we all step up and really work together to be able to solve these problems, it's going to be a tough road to recovery," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente.

He points out homeless people live up to 27 years less than others, stay two to three days longer when hospitalized, and have a 50 percent readmission rate after leaving a hospital.

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Homelessness is also a social justice issue. The documentary points out Blacks make up 40% of the homeless while represent 12% of the state's population.

"It would be such a benefit to all of us if people could find that humanity in the people that they see on the screen and put that into action," said Hardy.

"The Way Home" is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and Google Play.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.
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