SEATTLE, Washington — As Italy faces COVID-19 and the consequential socio-economic effects, its capital city, Rome, faces rising poverty rates and dire circumstances for its impoverished and homeless population. With stay-at-home orders put in place, life on the streets is even more isolating and difficult. Economic hardships have also placed many households on food stamps and driven others below the poverty line. As a result, many humanitarian organizations and charities are reaching out to help Rome’s poor and homeless populations. Here is how the capital is dealing with the novel coronavirus and the supports established to protect impoverished citizens from falling into poverty.
COVID-19 in Italy
In March, Italy had 64,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 6,000 deaths. Two months later, the number of COVID-19-related deaths in Italy rose by nearly six times. In a BBC article published in June, the Johns Hopkins University reported that almost 35,000 people died from COVID-19 in Italy.
Currently, Italy faces not only health catastrophes but also substantial economic setbacks. Before COVID-19, there were already 5 million living in poverty in the country. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 27% of Italians face potential poverty due to quarantine measures and economic decline.
Rome’s New Population Facing Poverty
As poverty rises in the country’s capital, lines for soup kitchens are getting longer and longer. Economic hardships and work restrictions leave many households with no choice but to turn to food banks. The number of people waiting in line at soup kitchens includes about one million new Italians facing poverty due to the pandemic.
Moreover, among the new population of Italians facing poverty are domestic workers, people working in unstable jobs and young professionals who suffer from drastically lowered incomes, according to The Guardian.
About 8,000 homeless people live in the streets of Rome. The homeless include migrants doing seasonal or illegal work, the chronically homeless and the most fragile individuals from Chinese and Bengali groups who have failed to integrate into Rome effectively.
With stay-at-home orders initiated throughout the city, the homeless populations are left vulnerable and exposed to the virus. There are still forms of aid such as soup kitchens and shelters open for the homeless. However, Rome’s now empty streets limit resources that were otherwise available to them, such as monetary help and spare change from strangers and washrooms provided by restaurants and bars.
Homeless people are crowding in many areas, such as the Tiburtina and Termini train stations. Moving around in the city has become increasingly difficult with the quarantine laws. As result, many homeless people take up residence in these stations or squatted houses. According to the New York Times, people found wandering around the city could face about $220 in fines and up to three months in prison.
The stations are crowded with little to no access to clean water, sanitation or health services. Prevention of the virus here is seemingly impossible. Furthermore, it is more challenging to detect and treat the virus among the homeless as many homeless people already suffer from other diseases or chronic conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes. Additionally, being on the streets makes them more susceptible to different diseases other than COVID-19. This also makes both testing and treating the virus increasingly more difficult.
Charities and Organizations
Although Rome’s impoverished and homeless populations face substantial obstacles with COVID-19, organizations distribute many forms of aid. The charity, St. Egidio, provides hot meals from their soup kitchen three days a week. St. Egidio charity volunteers also distribute about “2,500 boxed meals” per week to areas where the homeless stay. The pope’s charity and the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa, also provide food and water access.
Many supermarkets in Rome have also adopted measures to help Rome’s poor and homeless. An initiative called “spesa sospesa” allows shoppers to buy extra groceries for the impoverished that volunteers would then distribute.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Italy, the impoverished and homeless in the country’s capital continue to suffer. Although various charities and organizations provide aid and resources, many of these charities still struggle for funds. In light of the dangers of COVID-19 and limited assistance, humanitarian organization, supporters and the Italian government must renew their resources to support Rome’s poor and homeless who still face grim difficulties.