I swear, this isn’t as much a downer as the title might otherwise suggest. Today I went with a friend to volunteer at soup kitchen (or the Italian equivalent) near Termini Station. Our group was assigned to bus the tables after people finished eating, refill emptying
pictures pitchers of water, and be on hand to help with anything. Volunteer work is kind of a unique feeling, but I have to say that homelessness here is not exactly like homelessness in the United States as one might expect it to be.
One explanation I heard that resonated with me is that Italian society, and the Italian economy, relies on the family system. People who end up at the shelter aren’t able to fit into that system. That could mean a homeless person is a seasonal laborer, a widower, or even someone who can’t support his or her family. At the kitchen, there were many well dressed people. People charged their cell phones while they ate. I’m clearly a novice here and these are generalizations, but they are in stark contrast to what I do know more firmly about American homelessness. At least in DC, one in four homeless people is a veteran, the rate of mental health or physical disability is much, much higher, and alcohol and drug dependence is almost taken for granted. America could care less about its least visible citizens. Anyone who’s been watching this last season of the Wire could back me up here.
“Shelter on Tiber” is courtesy of flickr user Sev!