When You're Homeless, It's Like You Don't Exist
Richard Gere has been known to use his celebrity capital to raise awareness of national issues and international causes including, and especially, homelessness.
Gere, who turns 70 this August, has worked for years on behalf of the homeless, playing an active role with New York’s Coalition for the Homeless.
He regularly goes to New York shelters in his role as a special inspector for the charity, where he has been moved by the stories of those in need.
On one such visit, Gere recalled meeting a costumier: “He said 9/11 happened, he had some mental issues, it all fell apart and he ended up on the streets.”
Another man, a fellow actor, called out to Gere: "He came over to me [saying], ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ Whatever his story was, there’s not one of us that has a story that could not lead us to a shelter, to being homeless.”
In his lead role in 2015’s Time Out Of Mind, Richard Gere took to the streets of New York incognito as someone who is down-and-out. Gere sat on street corners begging for up to 45 minutes at a time without being recognized. The experience reinforced that he, like many people who are homeless, are non-existent. They go unnoticed. "I’m nobody. I don’t exist,” Gere says. He adds,
"I could tell when people from two blocks away had made a judgment about me on the corner. Just by the vibe I was giving off and the fact that I was standing still in a city that’s always moving.
I wasn’t harassing anyone. I had a coffee cup but I wasn’t shaking it in front of people’s faces. But people are used to making judgments about situations, consciously and subconsciously, from two blocks away. And from that far away they’d make the decision not to engage.”
Gere became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars with box-office hits like An Officer and a Gentleman and Pretty Woman. The documentary-style film Time Out Of Mind is about homelessness, about mental illness, and a man who struggles to survive on the streets of New York City.
Of the film, The New York Times wrote: “Gere is fascinating to observe in this role.” Time Out Of Mind won the International Critics’ prize five years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Richard Gere says, “I’ve been living in New York since I was 20.” He continues, "We all have our homeless people on our block. Then they disappear and who knows what happens to them. It’s a wide variety of issues. It’s not just mental illness. But people tend to be seen monolithically. That’s one of the failures of the social services, where people think one size fits all. There’s an infinite number of stories that lead people to being on the street.”
“Housing is the most important thing in bringing anyone back into society," states Gere. "It’s that sense of self, that ‘I exist and have some importance to people around me’. I’m saddened that we’re all too selfish to help each other as much as we should.”
This weekend the spotlight shines on the 91st Academy Awards. Richard Gere has never won an Oscar. Never been nominated, actually. In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gere believes that his politics have affected the roles that he is cast for or, more specifically, not cast for.
Despite the lack of big-budget Hollywood productions, Gere considers himself to be in a good position, both artistically and financially.
"I was successful enough in the last three decades that I can afford to do these [smaller films] now,” says Gere.
"The studios are interested in the possibility of making huge profits. But I'm still making the same films that I was making when I started. Small, interesting, character‑driven and narrative‑driven stories. It hasn't impacted my life at all."