Rome’s Homeless
Although homelessness is widespread in the streets of Rome, many charities and organizations seek to provide shelter and food to the city’s homeless. Among these organizations is a palazzo that others deem the “Palace for the Poor.” Pope Francis has blessed this luxurious building that seeks to shelter, supply hot meals and provide various services to Rome’s homeless population.

The Pope and the Poor

Pope Francis has always been a strong advocate for the poor. His hope for the church, when he became pope in 2013, was for it to be “a poor church for the poor.” After his election, Pope Francis has continuously advanced and supported initiatives to help the poor. He allowed for the burial of a homeless man alongside clerics, inside a cemetery within the Vatican. Pope Francis also initiated the installation of showers in public restrooms for the homeless.

The “Palace for the Poor”

Among Pope Francis’ many actions to aid the poor was the conversion of the Palazzo Migliori into a shelter for the homeless. Palazzo Migliori possesses the name of the noble family who donated the residency to the Vatican in 1930. It originally served as a home for single mothers, that nuns of the Calasanziane religious order ran.

After the nuns moved out of the Palazzo, there were plans to convert the vacant building into a luxury hotel. Given its prime location close to St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope delivers his sermons, it would have attracted many tourists and generated significant revenue for the church. However, Pope Francis personally requested the officer in charge of administering the poor, Almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, to turn the Palazzo into a shelter for the homeless. He blessed the Palazzo on November 17, 2019, just one day before the World Day of the Poor.

How the Shelter Works

Volunteers who work at the homeless shelter are from the charity organization, The Community of St. Egidio. They facilitate two hot meals per day – breakfast from 7 to 8 a.m., and dinner from 7 to 9 p.m. There are about 16 rooms available for the homeless with two to three beds in each room and 13 bathrooms that include showers.

Housing about 50 men and women, the upper floors are for sleeping accommodations, while volunteers serve meals on the second floor of the palazzo. The kitchen is open to volunteers making meals that distribute to the rest of the city’s homeless.

The building’s lower floors provide various services for the homeless. These services include forms of social support such as “computing, reading, recreation, and psychological counseling” according to an article by ABC news.

The Shelter’s Purpose

The purpose of creating the “Palace for the Poor” intertwines with Pope Francis’s belief that “Beauty Heals.” He believes that the beautiful nature of the Palazzo Migliori will play an important role in helping the homeless recover.

One of the shelter’s volunteers, Sharon Christner, echoed Pope Francis’ message in an interview. She said that “what is special about this place is that it’s not about maximizing dollar signs but giving people a really beautiful place to be, with the idea that beauty heals.”

Under COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to Rome’s homeless and poor, the Pope and the Vatican have continued to offer aid and services. Throughout the pandemic, many of the city’s homeless have moved closer to the Vatican to receive these resources.

According to the Vatican, many resources such as “shower facilities, sleeping quarters, and food assistance to the poor and homeless” are still in place. The Pope’s “Palace for the Poor” has remained open, offering warm meals and a place to sleep to those in need. The shelter’s kitchen is also still in use as volunteers continue to make and distribute meals to the city’s homeless.

The “Palace for the Poor” symbolizes the Pope’s empathy with the poor and homeless. It stands as a symbol in Rome for charity, humanity and beauty. Under decorated ceilings and amid noble furnishings, Rome’s homeless find shelter among beauty and relief from the warm meals and services the Palazzo Migliori provides.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr