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An Interview with Dr. Keith Humphreys, Esteemed Member of St. Anthony’s Advisory Council

April 17, 2024

St. Anthony Foundation serves as a beacon of hope and transformation in the heart of the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. To realize its mission to feed, heal, shelter, clothe, and lift the spirits of those in need, the foundation is guided by an advisory board of experts, which includes Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., a respected Stanford University professor who brings over three decades of addiction and mental health policy expertise to St. Anthony’s and the community it serves. His participation in active service reflects a feet-on-the-ground commitment to addressing the needs of the underserved.

Humphreys is an American psychologist serving as the Esther Ting Memorial Professor at Stanford University, a senior research career scientist in the Veterans Health Administration, and an honorary professor at King’s College, London. Known for his significant contributions to addiction science, Humphreys has authored impactful publications and received prestigious awards, including the 2021 Under Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His work spans research on self-help groups for substance use disorders, public policy advising on addiction, and leadership roles in addiction policy initiatives.

Photo courtesy of Stanford Medicine (Steve Fisch)

Humphreys has also played a crucial role in advising U.S. presidents on drug policy, contributing to the formulation and implementation of policies aimed at addressing the challenges of addiction and substance use disorders nationally. His expertise has been sought after by policymakers at the highest levels, demonstrating his impact on public health and addiction science.

His relationship with St. Anthony’s began with an encounter with previous CEO, Nils Behnke, which was sparked by a mutual desire to make a tangible difference. “I was looking for an opportunity to help those who didn’t have the advantages that I’ve had, and then Nils reached out,” he recalled. This connection was about offering help and fostering a meaningful partnership between Stanford and St. Anthony’s, leveraging his vast experience to improve the foundation’s effectiveness at achieving its mission.

Humphreys noted that many in the Stanford and surrounding communities are far removed from the realities faced by marginalized populations dealing with addiction, homelessness, and poverty in places like the Tenderloin. He stressed the importance of bridging the gap between the insulated experiences of the people who have the resources to help and the experiences of the marginalized, advocating for the importance of broader societal engagement to effectively tackle the most pressing social issues.

What stands out to Humphreys about St. Anthony’s is the Franciscan commitment to compassion without judgment. He noted, “St. Anthony’s addresses the needs of people who are often overlooked, providing immediate support in a world that is otherwise disordered for them.” His admiration for the foundation’s approach underscores the importance of treating the most stigmatized in society with dignity and respect by ensuring accessibility and immediacy in services unconditionally, especially for those who are grappling with addiction and mental health challenges.

Humphreys is particularly excited about the innovative programs at St. Anthony’s, such as the Companionship Program and the planned development of the foundation’s addiction recovery services. These programs reflect a deep understanding of addiction and mental health as chronic issues requiring non-punitive, long-term, sustained support for community integration and stabilization in housing, health, and other measures. “Addiction and mental health are not acute problems,” he explained. “They are chronic issues that need a community-centered health approach.”

Dr. Humphreys, center, pictured with members of the Advisory Council in January 2023

Humphreys’ decision to join St. Anthony’s advisory council is a call to action for donors and volunteers. He highlights the unique position of the privately funded foundation to innovate and serve as an example to the city, thanks to the freedom and support provided by the generous philanthropic efforts of the San Francisco and broader Bay Area communities. “Private funding allows St. Anthony’s to innovate in ways that are hard to achieve within the constraints of bureaucracy that comes with public funding,” he said. This emphasizes the impact of direct support and community involvement on the foundation’s ability to provide prompt essential services to those in critical need, while also shaping comprehensive policies designed to create lasting, systemic change in addressing homelessness and addiction.

Volunteering at St. Anthony’s has deepened Humphreys’ understanding of service and community support. He shared a poignant observation from his time in the Dining Room, where the necessity of a dedicated table for guests in wheelchairs starkly illustrated the vulnerability within the community that St. Anthony’s serves. “It was powerful to see the level of care and attention given to those who are often forgotten,” he reflected.

Looking to the future, Humphreys envisions a holistic approach to addressing addiction and homelessness, combining medical science with the wisdom of recovery and Franciscan values. He challenges the traditional view of rehabilitation, advocating for a model that encompasses health, love, structure, and positive roles to transform lives.

Outside of his impactful work, Humphreys finds joy and relaxation with his family, enjoying simple pleasures and immersing himself in old movies and books. The balance between his professional pursuits and personal life underscores a commitment to staying happy and healthy.

Humphreys’ involvement with St. Anthony’s is an example of the foundation’s understanding that collaboration, compassion, and innovation are required to effectively tackle the most pressing issues in society. His dedication and involvement in the Tenderloin is a call to action for anyone who cares about the local community to continue to come together, support this vital work, and, ultimately, build a more inclusive, caring, and flourishing society.

Your support helps to ensure that everyone in San Francisco has access to the services and welcoming community they need to flourish. Please help us continue uplifting San Franciscans through our programs by giving today.

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