INTERSOS is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that responds to humanitarian emergencies in Italy and 20 other countries around the world. The organization works on the frontlines of disaster zones, providing basic needs such as medical care, clean water, shelter and food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been especially active in Italy by providing relief to those in need. The INTERSOS response to COVID-19 in Italy focuses on Rome and the surrounding region, particularly on homeless people and other vulnerable groups.
Homelessness During the Pandemic
There are around 8,000 homeless people in Rome and about 3,000 of them do not have a means of shelter. According to the coordinator for homeless outreach at the Catholic charity, Sant’Egidio, shelters have reduced occupancy due to COVID-19 restrictions. This has been particularly challenging during the winter months when temperatures can drop below zero degrees. From November 2020 to January 2021, 12 people died from the cold on Rome’s streets.
Normally, the subway stations in Rome close at night, but, 40,000 people signed a petition created by the community group, Nonna Roma, to leave the metro open. This would give people a safe place to sleep at night. Charities and organizations such as Nonna Roma and Sant’Egidio are working to provide food and shelter to the increasing number of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. These organizations fear that the number of vulnerable people will rise as the expiration dates of protective tenant policies, such as a ban on evictions, looms.
The INTERSOS Response
In March 2020, INTERSOS recognized the lack of healthcare and basic necessities for the homeless in Rome. The organization quickly oriented its work to provide COVID-19 specific resources. This includes education about the virus, information about COVID-19 precautions and general healthcare assistance. It continued to do so since the second wave of infections in October 2020. The INTERSOS response to COVID-19 addresses accessibility, with mobile healthcare teams visiting vulnerable populations directly at informal housing settlements throughout Rome. These mobile teams provide as much assistance as possible, on-site. If the teams do not have the resources themselves, the teams direct people to relevant social or healthcare programs in the city.
INTERSOS Mobile Team
A UNICEF report from April 2020 explains a typical day for the INTERSOS mobile healthcare team. The day UNICEF reports on, the team visits an informal settlement of 500 residents on the outskirts of Rome. The living conditions are cramped as the structure was not intended for the purpose of housing families. These conditions put people at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The INTERSOS team conducts health screenings for COVID-19 symptoms, gives lessons on hygiene and speaks with individuals and families about specific concerns.
In a typical week, INTERSOS visits three settlements in Rome and checks in on people living in Rome’s train stations. INTERSOS is vital in providing healthcare and basic necessities to those who need it most. With the assistance and dedication of INTERSOS, Italy’s most vulnerable are getting the care and resources they need to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Caitlin Harjes