Documentary looks at causes, challenges of homelessness

It is not uncommon to see a homeless person during a walk in a city park or while driving around town, but many people barely give it a second thought and do not consider how someone becomes homeless and the factors that lead to living on the streets.

Dr. Fabrizia Faustinella

Dr. Fabrizia Faustinella

Dr. Fabrizia Faustinella, associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, has been filming the lives and stories of homeless people across Houston and Austin. The result is a 63-minute documentary she completed in February, titled “The Dark Side of the Moon,” which dispels some of the myths about the homeless and uncovers the causes and possible solutions to the issue.

“Many of us have the tendency to think that these are people who don’t want to work and that homelessness is a choice,” Faustinella said.

One of the main goals of the documentary is to educate the public on homelessness in Western society. It centers on interviews of homeless people who are asked a series of questions such as how they lost their home, how people treat them and what are the most difficult aspects and challenges of being homeless. The title “The Dark Side of the Moon” derives from one featured interview where a homeless woman states that she is “not the dark side of the moon,” and that she wishes for people to acknowledge her as a human being.

Faustinella explains how homelessness is often treated like the darker side of society – the side no one wants to see. “There is a pervasive sense of isolation among homeless people” she said. “Many of us choose to look away and ignore the homeless because it’s easier to do that than to accept a painful reality that doesn’t align with our own, or because we harbor prejudices against them and don’t see them as worthwhile human beings”

Along with offering the perspective of the homeless, Faustinella also interviewed professionals working at the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and a number of social workers, psychiatrists and healthcare professionals to understand more about the causes of homelessness and what can be done to help address the problem. Lack of affordable housing, insufficient income, unemployment, domestic violence, family disintegration, and mental and physical illness are common factors that lead to homelessness.

If society doesn’t start doing anything to address these problems, there will never be a shortage of homeless people. It will be a lost battle. In the documentary I try to address all of these issues, which are also connected to social determinants of health.”

Faustinella adds that drug abuse, incarceration and mental health problems often are both a cause and consequence of becoming homeless. She also notes that many of the issues that lead to homelessness can start as early as childhood.

Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon documentary poster.

“The documentary specifically addresses how a difficult upbringing can affect the neuro-biological development of a child and have long-lasting, negative effects on their psychological and physical growth,” she said. “That’s a huge problem, because it starts early on, especially when children are raised in dysfunctional environments, going from foster home to foster home or through a cycle of abuse and neglect.”

Faustinella currently works at the Harris Health Same-Day Clinic. She began developing an interest in the plight of the homeless while working as an internist at county hospitals Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson and as a medicine consultant at the Harris County Psychiatric Hospital. It is in these settings that she became exposed daily to a large homeless patient population.

“Often I encounter very intelligent people who have been challenged by a number of unfortunate events in their lives,” she said “Over time, I really developed an interest in trying to understand their problems more, not only because as a health professional I take care of these patients, but  also because I’ve been profoundly touched by the human aspect of their struggles.”

Faustinella hopes that the documentary will inspire those who are not normally involved in caring for the homeless or may not fully understand their circumstances.

“I realized that my level of interest and empathy was not often shared by others,” she said. “I then started to wonder why, and realized that it’s often due to a lack of knowledge or education about the causes and complexity of homelessness. I think when people start to understand more about what’s really happening, they are more prone to change their opinion and to revisit their bias and prejudices. If we educate people and develop an informative narrative that also shows all the elements of shared humanity, I believe they’ll be willing to listen.

“My hope is that this will lead to a positive shift in attitude and intentions toward homelessness, eventually resulting in increased support for changes in social, political and economic policies,” Faustinella said.

The documentary is currently being used for educational purposes in various medical schools and is being screened for medical students and residents in courses addressing humanism in medicine and social determinants of health. It also has been entered into a number of film festivals and was recently chosen as an Official Selection at the 2019 International Christian Film Festival.

-By Kaylee Dusang