I wait for the last train from Termini on Friday night and a man, probably in his 60s but looking older, asks me if the train goes to Civitavecchia. Yes, I say, it's the last stop. We get on the train and he sits opposite me, offering me a tic-tac. He's homeless and wants to go to Florence, where he can work as a street artist. He shows me his pictures, which are child-like pencil drawings. He has a bad cough and as I get off at my stop half an hour later, I think of him with guilt, about to spend a cold night in a dark and lonely station.

It's a desperate story repeated many thousands of times across the country. In Rome alone there are between 6,000 and 8,000 people with no fixed abode according to a June 2010 report based on figures from the Catholic relief organisation Caritas and the Christian community of S. Egidio.

With night-time temperatures in Rome dipping as low as -6