Actor Richard Gere visited homeless women at N Street Village in Northwest Washington on Tuesday, then spoke at an evening fundraising gala about the need to provide housing for people he described as too often “invisible.”
“We need a place with our own key,” Gere told those gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to raise money for N Street Village, which for 40 years has served thousands of homeless women. “There is not one of us in this room who is not yearning for our own tribe, where we are seen as precious. There is an incredible yearning to be in a place that is safe.”
Gere, who played the character of a homeless man in the 2015 film “Time Out of Mind,” told the crowd that he was impressed with the transformations that have occurred at N Street Village. The shelter, he said, was bursting with empathy and compassion.
“Compassion says, ‘I want you to be separate from your suffering,’ ” Gere said. “That is what I felt walking in that place today, a bunch of people saying, ‘I will do the best I can to separate you from that suffering.’ ”
The N Street fundraiser comes just weeks after D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced a $40 million plan to place small shelters for as many as 50 homeless families in almost every ward in the city. The new shelters would allow the city to close the decrepit D.C. General shelter in Southeast Washington, where 8-year-old Relisha Rudd lived before she disappeared two years ago with a janitor who later killed his wife and himself. Relisha is presumed dead, but her body has not been found.
The new shelters would resemble the model established by N Street Village, which provides health care, dental care, psychiatric services and housing to help homeless women reach stability.
Some of the women at N Street Village have been abused, said Executive Director Schroeder Stribling. Others suffer from mental illness or health problems. Some have lost their jobs and have nowhere else to turn. N Street provides them housing and recovery programs.
“Women have a safe place to sleep tonight,” Stribling told the 800 people who attended the fundraiser, which raised more than $1 million. “We are a place of hospitality, empowerment and unrelenting hope. We commit to the continuing goal to end homelessness as we know it by 2020. At N Street Village, we will do this one woman at a time.”
Gere handed out the 2015 Steinbruck Awards, which organizers say are “presented annually to women whose leadership, persistence, and determination reflect that of Erna and John Steinbruck, co-founders of N Street Village.” The awards were given to Courtney Hayes, Rose Shaw and Shaketa Barnes.
Shaw, wearing a purple lace dress with a string of pearls, said she had been an addict most of her life. “At N Street Village,” she said, “I found peace. I began to see women like myself. I started accepting help that maybe an old woman, an old addict, could be taught something new.”
“As long as the doors to N Street are open,” Shaw said, “no one will ever have to walk alone.”
Broadway star and Tony Award-winner Jennifer Holliday also performed at the event, singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” which she made famous in the musical “Dreamgirls.”
“I am a woman who has had great difficulty in my life and in my career,” Holliday told the crowd. “So many years, I suffered with depression, and I couldn’t find work. I realize so many of us can be in the same situation as homeless. We are one paycheck away. There but for the grace of God go I.”
Gere echoed that in an interview Tuesday when he talked about preparing for the role of a homeless man in “Time Out of Mind.” He spent time on the streets of New York City, sitting on benches, digging through trash cans and begging for change. While posing as a homeless man, Gere sat at street corners for almost an hour at a time. Few people recognized him.
“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Gere said. “I could see people from two blocks away, making a judgment based on how I was dressed. I was very invisible to them. People are afraid. But then it touches something deep in all of us. None of us are that secure that it couldn’t be us also.”