Rome, Italy, Mar 28, 2020 / 13:01 pm
Along the edge of Bernini’s colonnade, the semi-circular rows of columns which wrap St. Peter’s Square in Rome, many homeless spend time during the day and sleep at night, as tourists and locals walk by.
But during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led Italian authorities to lock down the country, close St. Peter’s Square, and order everyone to stay home, where can those with nowhere to go find shelter?
There are an estimated 8,000 homeless in Rome, according to Massimiliano Signifredi, communications director for Sant’Egidio, a Catholic community and volunteer network based in Rome.
“Unfortunately, no one has thought of these people,” he told CNA. “These people are at risk, not only because of the virus, but because of isolation.”
Of those 8,000 homeless, he explained that around 3,000 will not be able to find room in shelters across the city, and instead choose “to live at the train stations and at places like St. Peter’s Square, which continues to be a place of refuge for those without a home.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, with the streets abandoned and bars and restaurants closed, “those who do not have a home find themselves in great difficulty,” Signifredi said. “Even to go to the bathroom is a problem without a house; and to wash your hands frequently, like we should, you cannot do if you are on the street.”
One state police officer who works near the Vatican, and who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, said one of the places where many homeless typically sleep at night – under the gallery of one of the nearby buildings – is now empty.
But the outer edge of Bernini’s colonnade still hosts many of its usual guests, though numbers are slightly reduced. “Some people really do not want to go; they prefer to stay outside,” the officer said, adding that the police cannot force anyone to go to a shelter against his or her wish.