homelessness in italyItaly has a population of just over 60 million people and boasts a per-capita GDP of roughly $34,000. This makes it one of the world’s most developed countries. Further, Italy’s location in the Mediterranean and its rich, diverse cultural history make it a land of opportunity. Some of its most profitable industries include tourism, agriculture, fashion, wine, olive oil and automobiles. However, despite having such a strong economy, homelessness in Italy remains an issue. Here are seven facts about homelessness in Italy.

7 Facts about Homelessness in Italy

  1. Official statistics may undercount the number of people facing homelessness in Italy. Roughly 3.2% of the country, or 2 million people, make under $5.50 per day. Of those people, more than 50,000 are homeless. However, because these figures come from major cities, there are likely more people facing homelessness in Italy. The country counts people as homeless if they are living in a public or outdoor space, an emergency shelter or a specific accommodation for the homeless. This does not include people in jail, receiving medical care or living with family. As such, official numbers often do not reflect Roma, Travellers and Sinti people who live in subpar housing.
  2. Middle-aged people and migrants are most at risk for homelessness in Italy. Half of all homeless people are between the ages of 35 and 54. Further, Migrants make up 58% of people facing homelessness in Italy. In Milan, 90% of people living in slums are foreign-born. Similarly, in Naples and Bologna, 77% and 73% of homeless people are migrants, respectively. Between 2011 and 2014, the average duration of homelessness migrants faced went up from 1.6 to 2.2 years. This is still less than native Italians, whose duration of homelessness was 3.5 years on average.
  3. As a result of the global recession in 2008, the rate of homelessness tripled. In Italy, the loss of a stable job contributes significantly to homelessness. Additionally, the rate of economic recovery has been slow. By 2016, an estimated 3,000 more people became homeless in Italy compared to 2011. Even in 2011, one in every four families in Italy was unable to make mortgage payments. This implies an increased rate of evictions and families made newly homeless. At the same time, the unemployment rate nearly doubled from 6.7% in 2008 to 12.7% in 2014. As of 2020, estimates place it at 9.1%.
  4. Italy fares worse on homelessness than many of its E.U. neighbors. For example, Italy spends the equivalence of $12 per person on housing. The United Kingdom, in contrast, spends more than 40 times the amount Italy does. In Italy, the financial crisis led to funding cuts for housing. Additionally, only 4% of Italy’s housing stock is public, which is one-fifth of the E.U. average.
  5. Homelessness in Italy is geographical. Specifically, about 56% of all reported homeless people live in the northern part of the country. Of all northern cities and cities across Italy, Milan has the highest amount of homeless people. Estimates suggested 12,000 homeless people in Milan in 2014. Central Italy contains roughly 24% of Italy’s homeless population, while Southern Italy contains 20%. Rome and Palermo report the highest number of homeless people in their respective regions.
  6. In 2018, the Salvini Decree ended humanitarian protection for migrants not eligible for refugee status. Most people who arrived to Italy receive humanitarian protection, and 100,000 hold work permits. With protections removed, the migrants faced evictions. These occurred in parts of southern Italy.
  7. Homeless people face unique struggles as a result of COVID-19. When Italy went into a full lockdown to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, police started fining homeless people for violating lockdown, simply because they could not follow lockdown rules. Additionally, building shelters amenable to social distancing proved challenging. Many homeless people also lack information about the virus and proper personal protective equipment. Finally, obtaining food became a struggle for many people facing homelessness in Italy.

Organizations Fighting Homelessness in Italy

Several organizations are helping to fight homelessness in Italy. Baobab Experience wrote an open letter to the minister of health, Roberto Speranza. It urged for health checks for migrants, many of whom were afraid to go to hospitals due to their immigration status. The organization also pleaded with the minister to find housing options for homeless people so they would not spread the virus to anybody else.

Emergency, another NGO, established temporary housing units for homeless people, including those requiring isolation. It hired educators, social workers and health providers to assist in the operations and show them how to use PPE properly. Similarly, between 2012 and 2013, Doctors Without Borders began providing free healthcare to homeless people in Milan. The organization reported that about 70% of those seeking care were migrants, mainly from Africa and Eastern Europe.

Additionally, the Community of St. Egidio has worked with Pope Francis to help poor people and refugees. The organization offers 100 beds, hot meals, counseling, hand sanitizers and masks to homeless individuals. Another Catholic organization, Caritas Italy, has also provided food and sanitation to people facing homelessness in Italy. Regular citizens have jumped in to help as well: in Naples, residents lowered food baskets from their balconies to feed people who were on the streets.

Moving Forward

These organizations bring hope to the fight against homelessness in Italy. As the facts above illustrate, homelessness remains a serious problem in Italy, one that primarily affects marginalized groups. However, the work of NGOs and other organizations can help reduce this problem and bring Italy more in line with its E.U. neighbors in reducing homelessness.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr