World

Deaths among Rome’s rough sleepers surge as shelters turn many away due to Covid

More people are sleeping on the streets in Rome after being turned away from shelters due to coronavirus restrictions, while the number of homeless people dying from the cold has surged this winter.

There are about 8,000 homeless people in the Italian capital, of whom 3,000 have no shelter for the night, according to figures provided by the Catholic charity Community of Sant’Egidio.

“The number is higher than a year ago,” said Massimiliano Signifredi, coordinator for homeless outreach at Sant’Egidio. “One of the main reasons being that shelters which could previously host 100 or 200 people have had to reduce numbers or completely close.”



A homeless person living under the colonnade in front of St Peter’s Square in Rome. Photograph: Massimo Percossi/EPA

The consequences of Covid-19 on the homeless have become increasingly visible in Rome in recent months. Makeshift beds have appeared on the plush shopping streets in the centre, or on the steps of churches or outside supermarkets.

Edwin, a 46-year-old Nigerian, died of the cold near St Peter’s Square last week, prompting Pope Francis to appeal to Romans to help the homeless. In early January an Italian man died after bedding down for the night at the entrance of a shuttered hotel. They are among the 12 people to have been killed by the cold since late November.

“These deaths cause us a lot of pain as they shouldn’t be happening, it is unacceptable,” added Signifredi. “Now there is a desperate need to find new beds as the freezing temperatures are forecast to return next week.”

With scant assistance from Rome authorities and a failed plea to leaders to help hoteliers cover the cost of opening their otherwise empty premises to homeless people, finding more beds is the onus of the city’s volunteers.

Chart

On Tuesday night, Sant’Egidio opened a dormitory, which sleeps up to 10, in a church in the Trastevere district that had been abandoned for 30 years. Volunteers rallied to provide beds, bedding and electric heaters, as well as partitions that enable the guests to adequately social distance. Meals are provided by the charity, as are regular tests for Covid-19.

Nonna Roma, a community group that has been delivering food parcels to thousands of families left impoverished by the pandemic, recently set up a shelter in a cultural centre in Rome’s Pigneto area. The group started a petition, signed by more than 40,000 people, calling on Rome’s authorities to keep metro stations open overnight. Even though the motion recently won a vote in city hall, there is yet to be any action.

Alberto Campailla, one of Nonna Roma’s volunteers, said he had seen a significant increase in the number of people falling into extreme hardship over the last year as a result of the pandemic.

“We found a family with a five-year-old child living on the streets – they had lost their work and couldn’t pay the rent any more,” he added. “We managed to find them a temporary home, but if it wasn’t for volunteers they would have stayed on the streets.”

In its poverty report in October, the church-run charity, Caritas, said that 45% of people who had turned to it for help between May and September last year were the “new poor”, that is people who had not previously sought assistance. Among them were shop owners or self-employed, with the charity providing them with food or funding to pay bills.

The pandemic has badly affected people on precarious work contracts or employed off the books, leaving them devoid of any state assistance.

Sant’Egidio’s volunteers have come across many who were forced to sleep in their cars.

“So many people lost their income and suddenly found themselves in serious financial difficulty,” said Signifredi. “Businesses have been brought to their knees. Think also about the people who clean hotels – the owners might have enough money to sustain themselves while their businesses are closed, but those doing the menial jobs have been forgotten.”

As the pandemic rumbles on, charities fear that homelessness will further rise, especially with a ban on evictions expected to be lifted in a few months.

The sudden political crisis has also left Italy’s economic recovery plan in disarray and it is unclear whether a ban on layoffs will be extended from 31 March.

“So if companies can return to sacking people and people can be evicted from their homes, those who don’t have families or a social network to support them will end up on the street,” said Campailla.

Source link

Tags

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close