Charitable organisations in Rome have reported an alarming increase in hunger linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus.
Volunteers for the Community of Sant’Egidio, local Caritas organisations, the Red Cross and others, including numerous neighbourhood initiatives that have sprouted up spontaneously to cast a wide safety net, are trying to respond to the new situation.
“It used to be that a significant part of our work was about the social aspects – simply chatting with people living on the streets. They just like to have a little company when we come by,” said Mario Gabbarini, a Sant’Egidio volunteer.
“But now we are encountering real hunger. Compared with before, the people we know aren’t looking for a chat. They dig right in, because they have been waiting for us and because they are that hungry,” he said.
While for many, being closed in at home for weeks at a time is a major inconvenience, as well as a psychological stress, in Rome there are thousands of people who have no home to speak of. They live under railway overpasses, crammed into church doorways, under the arches of an ancient aqueduct or under the bridges of the Tiber River.
The homeless – numbering 15,000 to 17,000 people in Rome by modest estimates – as well as migrants and asylum-seekers are at the epicentre of a crisis within a crisis. According to the national statistics agency, ISTAT, there are more than 50,000 people homeless across Italy, mostly concentrated in urban areas.
Picture: A homeless person is treated by a Red Cross worker in Rome on 17th March 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters).