Monday, April 13, 2009

The other side of Rome: Homeless people in the Eternal City

From the LA Times-

Apart from the ancient monuments and great art, there is a side of Rome tourists would rather not see: the homeless. Some 7,000 people sleep on the streets of the Eternal City, 75% of them non-Italians, according to the city council. They congregate in the historic center and around railway stations.

The sad fact was driven home to me this winter, when a young man and woman took up residence on the front porch of a little church next to my apartment building. Every night they spread out cardboard beds, and in the morning they aired their blankets on the wall behind the Forum of Augustus.

My district has always had homeless people — familiar, seemingly harmless neighbors without a fixed address. But this couple had strikingly filthy habits and an antagonistic edge. Sometimes they cursed passersby and routinely left unspeakable debris on the stoop. I’m ashamed to admit that I was horrified — and a little frightened. A clerk at a nearby hotel told me the police couldn’t force them to leave and when social service workers approached them the couple refused help.

Later I visited the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within the Walls near Termini train station. For the last 17 years, it has opened its crypt to political refugees who come to Italy in the backs of trucks or the holds of boats from distressed places like Afghanistan, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Lacking legal documents, work and money, most of them sleep on the streets.

The rest-

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