Living on the streets

Makeshift housing in Rome

Karine SENEY, 2008

Collection Passerelle

According to the authorities, the Italian capital had 6,000 homeless people in 2005. This figure does not however include the occupants who squat in abandoned buildings or those in unsanitary camps on the outskirts of the city … It is therefore difficult to know precisely how many people live. today on the street in Rome. Failing to count them, we can instead try to show who these people are, where they live and how they occupy urban space.

Refugees and asylum seekers  : between reception centers and precarious occupations

Among the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers are particularly represented. According to the 2005 report «   Roman Observatory on Migration   » of Caritas Roma, the Municipality of Rome coordinates twenty reception centers intended to accommodate, for a fixed period, 600 people and to provide them with access to services. public (language learning, access to healthcare, job search). However, the number of reception facilities appears to be insufficient  : more than 7,000 asylum seekers and refugees lived in Rome in 2005 and this figure continues to increase. In addition, these reception centers, which meet the basic needs of individuals, do not allow people to live with their families.

This is why the refugees group themselves together by families or by community and, depending on the possibilities, occupy abandoned buildings that they manage independently or sometimes with the support of associations fighting for the right to housing, such as the Coordinamento Cittadino di Lotta per la casa, ACTion, etc. More than twenty sites were occupied in 2005  : Tiburtina, Collatina, Porto Fluviale, Via Bravetta, Via Sannio… So many places that each host between 50 and 500 refugees and asylum seekers awaiting papers, a employment and decent housing. And when the owner decides to reinvest his property, it is the immediate and sometimes violent eviction of all the occupants to the street.

Camps for immigrant workers from the European Union

Immigrants in an illegal situation are also particularly affected by very precarious housing situations. Under the bridges, along the Tevere River, protected by vegetation or in camps on the outskirts of the city, lives a large population of immigrant workers, often from eastern countries in search of employment.

Michele, a 60-year-old Romanian, lived in 2005 along the Tevere river with two friends, in self-built shelters. «   It’s not easy to get a job in Italy, but it’s always better than in Romania where I was earning 50 euros a month. And as long as I am in good health, I would rather continue living near the river than renting a caravan 250 euros per month, without water or electricity, in a camp on the outskirts of town   ”. Three individual shelters are organized around a small coffee table and a few wooden boxes. Made from reclaimed materials, they are devoid of privacy, minimum comfort and are totally exposed to external aggressions  : yet this is where the three men live.

Michele’s reality is not an isolated case. Since Romania’s accession to the European Union in 2007, the number of Romanians has increased considerably in Italy. According to the Caritas organization, the country today has 556,000 Romanians, including 170,000 from the Roma community. In the capital, the Roma are said to be around 8,000, grouped together in around 20 camps, living in unsanitary conditions, in huts made of cardboard, sheet metal and plastic sheeting. But their situation could deteriorate further. The new mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former neo-fascist, was elected at the end of April 2008 with the slogan «   Let’s close the Roma camps  ", which foreshadows mass expulsions.

Low income in the face of rising real estate  : retirees evicted

The last people to suffer mass evictions are the elderly, the pensioners, who cannot afford significant rent increases.

With their homes sold to private real estate companies, many have been faced with purchase proposals or exorbitant rent increases. An elderly lady testifies at an anti-eviction protest  : «   With a pension of 700 euros and a rent of 500 euros, I’m already struggling to move forward. The building where I lived was sold to a private person, who immediately sent me a letter proposing the purchase of the home, where I have lived for 40 years, for the modest sum of 210,000 euros. But how do I do with a pension of 700 euros  ?   ”. As she did not have sufficient income to buy her home, and no bank would allow a loan to the over 70-year-old woman, she had to leave the area.

Thus, spontaneous occupations managed only by women have emerged since 2005. On March 8, 2008, a group of women, encouraged by the movement for the right to live ACTion, was expelled from the establishment that they had been occupying for several months. These women had organized themselves collectively to deal with the insecurity and precariousness of the streets. They meet again outside. An endless tunnel …

The case of a group of political refugees expelled from an occupation, Via Sannio Rome, 2005

On September 28, 2005, 58 refugees and asylum seekers, Eritreans and Ethiopians were expelled from a spontaneous occupation of Via Sannio by the Municipality of Rome.

They had been living for a month in an abandoned house, without electricity or running water. Concerned about their future and the neighborhood, they had taken care to inform the neighborhood of their presence by affixing a sign on the entrance gate explaining their situation. All were in possession of a refugee card or a residence permit for political asylum. All therefore felt that they were the responsibility of the Italian state. What was the latter’s response  ?

The house was walled up and families were forced to take over the sidewalk. In deplorable conditions, without minimum protection, without access to health services. With two improvised shelters made of plastic sheeting which separated their « private space » from the street, they took turns sleeping outside, the beds aligned on the sidewalk and each in turn ensuring the safety of the group. They cooked, ate and washed in the street, in full view of all passers-by. They stayed like that for over a month and a half, abandoned.

The only solution proposed by the municipality was the placement of women and children in different reception centers, scattered around the city, at the cost of breaking up families.

Some attempts to mobilize associations, such as ACTion, ASF, Center Astalli and Cir have seen the light of day. But the waiting lists for housing or even a place in an occupation were so long that it was not considered an urgent case. People came to help find rehousing solutions. The municipality got what it was looking for  : exhaustion led to the group’s break-up. People eventually found refuge with friends or in temporary occupations.


The city presents. Rapporto su Roma 2005. Caritas diocesana di Roma. Ed. Franco Angeli.

Osservatorio Romano sulle Migrazioni. Rapporto 2004 to 2007  :

The site of the ( Municipality of Rome, habitat policy section

The site of the ( Unione inquilini

Il manifesto «   Roma, in 10 mila contro gli sfratti  ", 30 ottobre 2005

Il manifesto “  Roma, si suicida per lo sfratto  ”, 12 ottobre 2005

Unità Roma «   A Roma i poveri sono 300mila  ", 11 ottobre 2005

La Repubblica “  Sfrattato, si butta dalla finestra  ”, 11 ottobre 2005

Le Monde «   New Italian government tackles illegal immigration   » May 14, 2008

Le Monde «   Designated for popular retribution, the Roma in Italy try to establish a dialogue   » June 2, 2008

This sheet was originally published in n ° 1 of the Passerelle Collection. You can find the PDF of the issue ( Europe  : not without a roof  ! The accommodation in question