credit: Rachel Cain

Oscar award-winner Susan Sarandon may be most famous for her roles in Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking, and, of course, the cult-classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, her work and commitment extend far beyond her achievements on the silver screen—she’s also a strong activist for numerous causes, including homelessness.

She recently visited D.C. to testify at a congressional briefing on violence against the homeless. While she was here, Street Sense had the opportunity to speak with Sarandon about her experience as a homeless advocate.

“I have always been very aware of people who are not housed,” Sarandon explained.

Growing up in New York City, she often saw homeless people living on the streets, which compelled her to begin her advocacy work for the homeless. For years, Sarandon has been involved with the National Coalition for the Homeless (she follows the NCH on Twitter). She’s also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and has helped out at a soup kitchen for more than two decades. Somehow, she has always found ways to juggle her advocacy work while acting in Hollywood productions.

“I’m in chaos all the time,” she smiled. “If I can use my media connections to shine a light on those who are voiceless, that’s the point.”

Sarandon relies deeply upon her store of empathy to imagine the lives of the characters she plays in films. Similarly, she believes empathy is one of the reasons why she feels drawn to speak out for the homeless.

“If you can imagine yourself in that situation [of homelessness], you want to take action,” she said. “It’s an organic natural flow.”

The actress believes that one of the most important steps to ending homelessness is to help people who are housed understand and identify with the homeless population.

“Kids don’t develop empathy without education,” she said. “There’s a misconception that people on the street want the easy life, that they don’t want to work.”

She hopes that a new documentary film, Storied Streets, directed by her son Jack Henry Robbins and produced by Thomas Morgan, will enable the public to understand the complexities of homelessness and the challenges homeless people face every day—she says it certainly made her more aware of the realities of homelessness.

“They go across the US and debunk myths of how people become homeless,” Sarandon explained. “It makes the face of the unhoused specific and human. There are so many ways to end up on the street even if you’re working two jobs—people are on the precipice constantly. I hope the film redefines for people what homelessness is.”

Homelessness is for thousands a reality Sarandon says she almost “can’t bear the thought of.”
“Home means so much to me,” she expressed. “I can’t imagine not having a place to be clean, to be safe.”