The American actor met around 100 homeless people, refugees and volunteers at a centre run by the Sant’Egidio charity, before showing them his new film, ‘Time out of Mind’, in which he disguises himself as a homeless man.
“It’s overwhelming to see these beautiful faces. It warms my heart,” he said.
“Only people heal people. Not money or politics, but people who communicate with eachother. I’m honoured to be here.”
The film comes out in Italy on June 15th, a few days before debuting at the Toarmina film festival in Sicily.
An estimated 8,000 people are homeless in Rome, either scrambling for an overnight shelter or bedding down for the night under the bridges of the river Tiber, on the steps of a monument or under the massive colonnades of St Peter’s Square.
The Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic charity, provides shelters and soup kitchens across the city, along with medical services and places for homeless people to wash.
A homeless man sleeping near the Vatican on Thursday night. Photo: Steve Barnes/Project Rome
A separate volunteer group, Project Rome, was also set up last year by two British expats, Mary Stuart-Miller and Steve Barnes. They prepare hundreds of freshly cooked meals a week, distributing them to homeless people at various locations across the capital, as well as provide them with clothing, blankets and toiletries.
“Homelessness is a global epidemic and is growing at an alarming rate,” Barnes, who was once homeless, told The Local.
“The barriers need to be broken down between people who are living comfortable lives and those who have fallen below the `invisible line’ of poverty and despair.
“Richard Gere is doing a lot to heighten awareness of the situation, but it shouldn’t just be down to a celebrity. We all need to open our eyes and start to recognize that we can do something to help people who sleep outside, without basic human needs, such as running water, sanitation or food.
“The man or woman we walk past on the street could be Richard Gere, or it could be someone in desperate need of human comfort who lost their partner and home. They are one and the same, they are people, and we should respond to them exactly in the same way as a fellow human, and in particular treat those who are most disadvantaged in society with kindness and compassion.”