It struck me that this film may well be a reasonably authentic account of homelessness. This because it chimed so well with my own experiences. Perhaps it was for this reason that I had no difficulty at all with the slow pace of the film and scant storyline. In other words, the film held my attention throughout; I enjoyed it a great deal. Indeed, I found it extremely interesting, found Richard Gere to be very credible in his role as a homeless man, and so must give the film 5 stars.
As to chiming with personal experience, while I have never been homeless, I have experienced a prolonged period of poverty. During this time, I was in contact with various welfare services and much of what George experienced, I also experienced.
One of my most memorable encounters was with the sorts of “care workers” that George encounters, when I was admitted to hospital as an emergency, arriving by ambulance. I had never been in such a situation before and had no idea what to expect. Like George at his first meeting with a care worker – a meeting to assess his needs - I too was exhausted (and also hungry). Like George, I was not allowed to rest until my needs had been assessed i.e. I had been interviewed by, in my case, several different people. In fact, I was subjected to three days of assessment interviews, which included psychological assessments, social work assessments and a visit from the police. These very intense meetings took place in the mornings. By the end of each morning my head was reeling and I couldn’t think straight. Despite this, I was not allowed to rest in the afternoon, nor even at lunchtime. Lunchtime was when a consultant made his assessment, my meal growing steadily colder while I was examined. Afternoons were spent undergoing strenuous, physical assessments (strenuous because of my very weak condition). In addition, I was transferred to 3 different wards in as many days. Like George, all I wanted was to rest, to sleep. However, my treatment only increased my levels of exhaustion such that, like George, I had difficulty answering any questions put to me. Like George, my treatment left me feeling even more confused, vulnerable and disoriented with each passing day.
During his assessment, it was discovered that George was unable to access welfare services because he had no social security card. Did he know his social security number? No. Ok, then, did he have a birth certificate? No. George was then sent on a paper chase to get the birth certificate required to get a social security card. At the next agency he visited, he was asked for ID. Do you have a passport? No. (In the UK, a passport currently costs around £100!) What about a record of military service? No. Utility bills with your name and address? No. (I mean, a homeless person?!!) So, no ID, no birth certificate. No birth certificate, no social security card. I felt for George during all of this, for I too experienced something similar e.g. money due me would not be released until I supplied the relevant agency with a photocopy of my birth certificate. (Not only was I in hospital and unable to get my birth certificate and have it photocopied, but neither did I have any next of kin who could take care of that sort of thing for me. Like George, I was completely on my own.)
(As an aside, I noticed in the film that George made money by pawning his jacket and then scrounging a replacement from some charitable stranger. This left me wondering about his shoes. George had to walk miles travelling between agencies, yet his shoes never appeared to wear out. Surely he must have had to replace them regularly. How did he come by replacement shoes, I wonder?)
Finally, George found his way to an agency dealing exclusively with homeless people. At his interview, instead of being told what services they, the agency, could offer him, George was asked what they, the agency, could do for him. In his state of mind, it was, of course, a very, very difficult, almost impossible, question to answer. In the film, George, under extreme and increasing stress, has to work very, very hard to gather himself together and ask for the right thing, a birth certificate. Perhaps there were other things he could have asked for, but since he was not told by the agency what these were, then how could he ask? He could only ask for a birth certificate because some other agency had told him he needed one.
This asking what the agency can do for you, without, as it were, giving a menu of options to choose from, is a very modern approach. I know it well. I have experienced it myself from e.g. a psychiatrist, among others. I have seen YouTube videos of therapists asking clients the same question: “What can we do for you?” or “How do you suggest we help you with your problem?” This is an appalling practice. It places an impossible burden on the person seeking help, a person who is ill, who is extremely vulnerable, who can’t think straight and who is probably very inarticulate.
During the day, George has no where to go. If he has a little money, he can sit in a bar or a café for a short while, but otherwise all he can do is sit outside, on a park bench. He tries to stay warm and sleep in a hospital waiting area but is moved on. I could identify with that. When I had very little money, there was nowhere to go out to that didn’t cost money – it is only for so long you can sit in a café drinking a cheap coffee, for if you are not buying, then the café owner needs your table. The local library was an option – not under lockdown, of course – but it was always cold. After an hour in the library I got chilled. Returning to my cold house was a miserable affair since it took me ages to get warm again.
For all of the above reasons I think that this film presents a reasonably truthful picture of homelessness (not to say hopelessness). Further, it drove home to me the fact that the authorities simply do not want to help homeless people. If they had the will to help, then they would make it as easy as possible, not as difficult as possible, for homeless people to get help.
The film was set in the USA. There is also a growing number of homeless in the UK. I don’t know if things are as bad in the UK, but I have heard that in the US, shanty towns are growing up around cities like Baltimore. Why are there so many homeless people in the US?
To answer the above question, I will refer to the film “Apple Mortgage Cake” which I watched recently on Prime Video. In this film, single mother Angela faces eviction because she cannot pay her mortgage. She is given 2 weeks to come up with the money. She is unemployed. To raise the money, she resorts to selling baked cakes, producing them at home in her kitchen. At first, her venture meets with some success…………….. until, that is, the authorities find out and put a stop to it. They kill any chance of success for Angela with beaurocracy, with regulation e.g. health and safety. The UK and the USA are extremely highly regulated countries. This beaurocracy makes it impossible for ordinary folks like Angela – or like George – to get themselves out of financial trouble. Regulation only keeps people in poverty, many ending up homeless. And as more regulation is introduced, the more homelessness there will be.
The USA (and the UK) sells itself as the land of the free, the land of opportunity. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Many Mexicans, however, believe this lie and enter the USA illegally every year.) Far from being free, the reality is that highly regulated countries are like prisons, places where opportunity cannot flourish. The irony is that one of the freest nations in the world is one which does not boast about freedom: India. One of the least regulated countries in the world, India, is a country in which Angela’s venture would have had far more chance of success. In India ordinary people are not so imprisoned by regulation as to prevent them trying to make ends meet. So, want the land of the free? Forget the USA. Forget the UK. India is the land of the free.