Rome charities call for action as homeless death toll mounts

Nine homeless people have died in Rome this winter due to the cold.

Rome charities have criticised the city for not doing enough to help the homeless, following the death of nine homeless people from the cold in just over two months.

Describing their deaths as "carnage" and "unacceptable", the Rome-based Catholic charity Caritas said there is a "chronic delay by institutions in taking care of the most fragile people."

The Italian Red Cross has called for "urgent, permanent solutions" while the Associazione Centro Astalli, a Jesuit-run refugee centre near Piazza Venezia, said the nine casualties are "not victims of the cold but of the lack of shelter and assistance."

The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, at St Paul's Within the Walls church on Via Nazionale, has appealed to people to continue to donate blankets, sleeping bags, heavy jackets, woollens and winter shoes, which it distributes directly to homeless asylum seekers.

Pope Francis responded to the freezing conditions in December by opening a medical clinic for the homeless under the colonnade of St Peter's, the latest addition to the Vatican's facilities available to homeless people, including showers and a barber service.

The Communità di S. Egidio, a charitable organisation based in Trastevere, estimates there are still 8,000 people sleeping outdoors in Rome, with another 6,000 receiving temporary shelter in train stations and other emergency accommodation as a result of the city's "cold plan."

Charities say the municipal piano freddo, launched in January, does not come anywhere near dealing adequately with the situation which is exacerbated by the city's ongoing evictions of abandoned buildings occupied by homeless people, many of them migrants and refugees.

At the onset of winter Rome police, equipped with bulldozers, undertook the eviction - yet again - of the volunteer-run Baobab migrant centre near Tiburtina station.

In response to the growing crisis, Rome's mayor is reportedly studying a proposal that would oblige homeless people to accept emergency shelter, in municipal structures, during extremely cold weather.

However the city's charities say it is a case of "too little too late" for the nine dead homeless men who perished in the cold - six Italians and one each from Romania, Tunisia and Poland.

Photo Corriere Roma - Corriere della Sera (Leone/LaPresse)