On any given night in the United States, over 500,000 people will experience homelessness. The majority of those who suffer destitution are single adults. But this phenomenon affects adults, youth, and children.
Why is homelessness so prevalent in the U.S.? The gap between affordable housing and income is widening. Housing is becoming more expensive; people are losing their jobs and homes. Or they don’t earn enough to sustain a household. They can’t pay for other necessary expenses such as food.
Those in the low-income tax bracket can’t afford to pay for the housing that is available to them. Without a place to live which they can afford, people face eviction and instability, which can lead to homelessness.
Believe it or not, health and destitution are linked. Poor health can both cause and exacerbate homelessness. The disparity of one’s situation can also bring about homelessness. Vagrancy impacts people from all races and ethnic groups, but some minority groups experience it more than others.
Those escaping a violent situation can be impacted by homelessness. After leaving an abusive relationship, the survivor may not have anywhere to turn after leaving a shelter.
So why then, do most of us ignore those dressed in tattered clothes sitting on the curb begging for money or food? Do we think they’re all suffering from substance abuse issues? Some are, but not all of them have problems with addiction.
Karine Gombeau-Valnais, a French tourist on vacation with her family in New York city, spotted a homeless man rifling through the trash near grand central Terminal. She stopped and offered him the leftover pizza she’d shared with her husband and son. She didn’t know this man was the well-known Golden Globe Winning actor, Richard Gere.
Gombeau and her family stumbled upon the set of Gere’s film, Time Out of Mind where he portrays a homeless man struggling with mental health issues.
Gombeau’s husband was filming with his hand-held camera. The Treo should’ve picked up on the fact that they’d stumbled on a movie set when people came out of nowhere and asked him to stop filming. Gombeau explains how this caused them great confusion: “People came from all over the station and told my husband to stop filming,” Gombeau said. “People came out of the subways. It was very confusing.”
Gombeau told The Post how her conversation with the bum, aka, Gere went: “What’s in the bag?” Gere, 64, asked.
“I tried to tell him in English, but it came out half in French,” she said.
“I said, ‘Je suis désolée [I am sorry], but the pizza is cold.’.
“He said, ‘Thank you so much. God bless you,’ ” Gombeau recalled.
Oddly enough, Gombeau went on her way, thinking she’d just done a good deed and left it at that. It wasn’t until the next day when a staff member at the Salisbury Hotel in Midtown showed her a copy of The Post. Gombeau was more than a little surprised to see a photo of her with Gere.
“It was magical . . . It’s crazy, this story. It’s unimaginable that something like this could happen,” she gushed.
“I think he’s very handsome, even at his age,” she added. “ ‘Pretty Woman’ was not my favorite movie, but I really loved ‘Chicago.’ ”
Gombeau said it broke her heart to see homeless people in the City that Never Sleeps: “It leaves me sad to know we waste food, and they have nothing,” she said. “It moves me.””
Approximately a year after this incident, just after the release of Time Out of Mind, someone went out on social media and pretended to be Gere. So the actor, who rarely posts on social media took to Facebook to clear up the matter that he’d went out on the streets and handed out money to the homeless.
Here’s his post:
“Hi, Richard Gere here,” the 66-year-old actor wrote on his costar’s page. “I was surprised to find that last week someone posted a photo of me on a Facebook fan page as a homeless man on the streets of New York that drew 1.6 million likes and over a half-a-million shares. While the story that accompanied the photograph was somewhat fictional (especially the $100 hand-outs), it seemed to have touched something important in people,” he continued. “I’d like to find out what that is and what we can do together to make something good and meaningful happen for our homeless brothers and sisters.”
It’s not unusual for actors to go undercover to help them get into character. Portraying a homeless man and seeing the response from the general public touched something in the multi-award winning actor. Gere found a way to relate to the suffering of those on the streets.
Have you ever offered food or money to someone on the street? Is homelessness so prevalent where you live that you barely notice those less fortunate than yourself? I’m relieved to see there are still kind folks out there who are willing to look past a person’s situation to the human being underneath. Gombeau was compassionate enough to realize the homeless man, even though it was Gere was in a bad way. She didn’t judge him or turn away, but looked at him with sympathy and simple kindness.