SANTA ANA, Calif. — For the last 14 years, Ellen Van Der Bosch, 61, has been fighting to get her son the help he desperately needs. Max Van Der Bosch, 33, is homeless and living with mental illness and drug addiction on the streets of Santa Ana. He struggles with multiple forms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and OCD. His drugs of choice are meth, heroine, fentanyl and Xanax. Max won’t take the psych meds he needs to remain stable. He frequently goes missing, sometimes for months on end.

"Searching the Streets" follows Ellen and Max’s journey for a month in 2023 as she struggles to find her homeless son, then convince him to enter detox and rehab. He is a known rehab-runner and has run away from rehabs 20 times before. Could this time be the success Ellen has been hoping for? We document some roadblocks and red tape they must overcome to navigate the mental health system in Orange County.

The fight to save Max became more urgent in the past year. In early 2022, Max was arrested for car theft and accepted a plea deal: court-mandated rehab for three months or four to seven years in federal prison. He was fitted with an ankle monitor as part of his probation, which Ellen has to help him charge nearly every day because if the monitor dies, he’ll be in violation of his probation. But a homeless person can’t just sit in a Starbucks to charge their ankle monitor, so Ellen drives around the streets of Santa Ana every day looking for her son to help him charge the monitor and keep her son out of prison. Ellen says that, because of his mental illness, Max doesn’t have the capacity to understand the severity of his situation and continues to resist rehab despite the real possibility of federal prison.

Ellen has found that helping other people in the same situations helps her own mental well-being. In 2016, she started a group called Textwich, a group that finds other missing homeless people using free food in exchange for tips and information. It operates using a network of other moms or family members with missing kids on the streets, who all pitch in to help each other find or take care of each other’s kids. Many times, the people living on the streets don’t want to leave, or accept help, so the network of moms will take care of them and “love them where they are.”

Ellen says Textwich has been successful in finding more than 100 people since first starting, and she hopes she can quit her job and one day make Textwich a fully operational nonprofit with chapters all over the country.