In all big cities there are many people who, for different reasons, are forced to live on the streets. It is a tough life, marked not just by poverty but also isolation, invisibility and sometimes contempt.Stopping by for a chat, creating a personal connection of help and friendship and relieving from need, those are the simple acts of the Good Samaritan, which fill the abyss of indifference surrounding both life and sometimes the death of those living on the street. Sant'Egidio started to be close to the homeless people in Rome during the late ‘70s, when the number of the poor people living on the streets was rapidly growing. Some episodes of intolerance and violence prompted a movement of reflection and concrete initiatives to counteract the condition of dangerous abandonment of these poor people.
Particularly touching was the case of Modesta Valenti, an elderly woman living at Termini Station in Rome. She died without receiving any kind of medical assistance from the first aid officer, as she was dirty and they didn’t want to carry her onto the ambulance. Her story shaped the history of the Community. Over the years, the memory of Modesta became an occasion for prayer together with those living on the street, while giving rise to a large movement of solidarity. The encounter with this world of the poor, which started in Rome and is now spread out in all the places where Sant'Egidio exists, has given rise to a robust network of friendship and support. Many different projects of solidarity have been initiated and fostered over the years, like: soup kitchens, support centers, accommodations and night shelters. In almost every place where Sant’Egidio exists, the Community organizes a distribution of hot meals and blankets at night on the street. This first gesture of proximity is the beginning of friendship.
The direct knowledge of the personal circumstances of many homeless people brings down those prejudices influencing the way we look at this particular aspect of urban poverty. First of all the idea the one of the poor is a world apart. Vice versa, someone living on a street is a person like everyone else which unfortunately has been overwhelmed by those hardships of life common to many (unemployment, loss of accommodation, marital breakdown) and hard to address with no support networks. Moreover, it is untrue that those living on the streets don’t want to be helped getting out of their situation. Isolation, lack of emotional ties and at times a tough past, make it difficult for these people to even imagine a different future. If you are alone it is almost impossible. It is easier when you have the company and the support of someone with and for whom to do it.
The loyal and friendly proximity to those living on the street is an invaluable opportunity for redemption: it makes it possible to find with imagination and creativity the solution to build together a more human life for everyone.