Richard Gere comes to Capitol to talk homelessness

 
Gere appeared on a Capitol Hill panel moderated by Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. The acclaimed actor stars in the upcoming film "Time Out of Mind” as a homeless man in New York City trying to reconnect with his daughter.
 
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Gere said he spent time in homeless shelters in order to prepare for the role.
 
"I'm here as a storyteller. I'm not an expert — I don't pretend to be," Gere said on the panel. "I thought I knew what was going to happen when I played this character, but I learned a lot — like how quickly the mind can deteriorate and how quickly what we would call mental illness starts to manifest."
 
He said he was struck by "this extraordinary sense of loneliness that this character felt and how it emasculated him as a man and a human being."
 
"That sense of worth, that sense of community and shared humanity — you don't retrieve it as quickly as you lost it,” Gere added.
 
"We're all looking for our home. We need our physical home, but we're also looking for our home in a deeper sense," he said. "That metaphor is powerful to me. We're not going to legislate a spiritual home ... but this is the root of it: Are we in this together or not?"
 
More than 578,000 Americans experienced homelessness in January 2014 — including 100,000 chronically homeless individuals and families, nearly 50,000 veterans and 45,000 unaccompanied homeless children and youth, according to a policy paper from the Financial Services Committee's Democratic staff.
 
Federal officials estimate that homelessness has declined by 2 percent from 2013 to 2014 and 11 percent since 2007, according to the policy paper. 
 
Waters used the panel as an opportunity to advocate for more government funding for programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is overseen in part by the House Financial Services Committee.
 
HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants is the largest federal homelessness program, with Congress allocating $2.1 million in funding for the current fiscal year — 12.5 percent less than President Obama's request for $2.4 million.
 
The program awards grants to state and local governments, public housing authorities and nonprofit organizations to fund housing services for the homeless, according to a Waters's policy paper.
 
"We need more money if we want to do something about this," she said after the panel.