By Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Don Hardy is best known for his documentaries about remarkable characters like actor Sean Penn and the avant-garde band The Residents. But now the East Bay filmmaker is taking on a new topic: homelessness.

“When you look at homelessness in total, it’s such a gigantic issue, so how do you break it down into something that people can relate to and might want to watch?” Hardy said.

Hardy’s latest project is a documentary series called “The Way Home”, it’s an in-depth look at homelessness in California, episode one starts with some history.

“We wanted to see when did the term homeless start making its way into the news and just being something that people would say and it does trace back to the Reagan era and a lot of the initiatives that he defunded,” Hardy said.

President Ronald Reagan slashed spending on public housing and subsidized housing, now 40 years later, more than 151,000 people are homeless on California’s streets, it’s a grim reality.

“More people on the streets, there’s not a lot of housing available and you’re dealing with a lot of smaller organizations who are trying to make a difference while waiting for the federal government and the state government to catch up,” Hardy said.

“We can’t expect people to live healthy lives if they don’t have a stable roof over their head,” Bechara Choucair, Chief Community Health Officer of Kaiser Permanente said.

Kaiser helped fund the film, its hospitals are often overwhelmed with this population.

“We know that if you’re homeless and you get admitted to the hospital, you stay two to three days longer and when you’re discharged from the hospital, you’re 50% more likely to be readmitted,” Choucair said.

The series explores a lot of what KPIX has covered in Project Home, the alarming number of people aging into homelessness and how this crisis disproportionately impacts the black community. Hardy, like anyone who cares about this topic, says he felt a personal connection that changed how he thought about the unhoused population.

“Her name is Donna Smith and talking to her and realizing I live in Alameda, I realized she worked at Alameda hospital which is less than a mile from my house and she lost her apartment because rent was skyrocketing…just thinking about how she had everything working for her. She had a home, a good job, and then it just went away, and that, for me, it was the moment of many now on this where I’ve just had my views on homelessness changed,” Hardy said.

That’s what he wants Californians to take away from this, the human side of this crisis. These are protagonists we don’t naturally sympathize with, but Hardy says we have to if we ever want to help.

“We really do hope the series can be a vehicle for dialogue and change throughout the U.S. and maybe beyond,” Hardy said.

The Way Home is available for streaming on Google, Apple, and Amazon Prime.