Lack of food is one of the most serious aspects of poverty which surprisingly affects large European cities, too. Even there, it’s easier and easier to see people scavenging for food in the dustbins.
On the other hand, feeding is a very ancient value, shared by all the civilisations because it’s connected to protection of life. The existence of hungry people is scandal for the Christian conscience: there is a parable in the Gospel about the wealthy man who had lavish feasts and the beggar Lazarus who was laid at his gate. Just like that, the value of feeding is rooted in Jewish and Islamic civilisations and it’s connected to hospitality.
Hungry people question everyone’s conscience too, believer or non-believer: you can’t put off until tomorrow assisting someone who has a vital need, because he or she can’t wait. That is the core of the culture of solidarity.
The first Community’s soup kitchen was made in Rome out of such an awareness. Afterwards new soup kitchens have been opened in several cities, not only in Europe but in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to assist homeless people, street kids, poor elderly people, people in poor health, prisoners.
A free of charge warm and rich meal is provided in the soup kitchen in a friendly atmosphere. Those who go there do it not only because of a material need but to find sympathy, respect, warm-heartedness, which they are often refused elsewhere.
Respect for everyone’s dignity and personality takes shape in the care for the environment, in the kindly attitude of those who wait at table. There is a specific care for food: the guests’ eating habits are taken into account in respect of their religious traditions. For instance, when Muslims are present pork is not served or wine is not drunk.
Service is provided by voluntary workers who devote their spare time to help people in need.
The Community’s welcome centres (day-care centres) represent a complex of initiatives set up in order to meet the needs of people in troubles.
Information and consulting
In the welcome centres, information and support to find one’s feet in the net of public and private services are provided.
Lack of food doesn’t affect homeless people only. In the big cities there are many people who starve or are malnourished due to poor wage or absence of income. That’s why at the Community’s centres foodstuffs are distributed to homeless people and to families with children, elderly people, people with poor health, too.
Homeless people need various kind of assistance that can help them live better. Without a home even simple acts are very difficult: for instance, taking care of oneself is a serious problem while living on the street. Given those circumstances, clean clothes, underwear and shoes are distributed at the welcome centres .
Shower, laundry, hairdresser
For a homeless person washing is an impossible problem to solve. That’s why centres showers and laundry are available at the welcome centres . Those who need a wash receive new clothes but they can also wash and iron their own clothes. Besides, hairdressers are present.
A surgery is also available at the welcome centres, where those who need can be visited and, if available, receive tmedications.
The homeless people often lose their rights to benefit the public and social services because, having no home, they can’t have registered residences and personal documents. Such a ‘virtual death’ condition determines a total loss of the rights connected to citizenship even if those people have been living among us for a long time. Thus, the Community of Sant’Egidio presses the local authorities to provide a registered residence to those who have lost it, which is the necessary condition to get personal documents and then to enjoy welfare services and health care.
The homeless people can’t receive mail. For them, who are sometimes far away from their families, receiving letters is the only way to keep in touch with their dear ones. That is why some of the welcome centres have become those registered residences which they lack and where they can receive mail.
Some people find very difficult to get a place to live for a series of circumstances. The Community has been making great efforts to help lonely people and people who became vulnerable because of ageing or diseases to remain in their own homes. Besides, the Community has created a ‘welcome network’ for homeless people which is made of different housing solutions (family homes, sheltered housing, night hostel and so on). They are not only places where they can spend a night but friendly homes, real homes, where they can start a new life, in the midst of the city life, not at the margin, where the places for poor people often are. Those houses are also new model of cohabitation, a proposal of a new way of living together. And at the same time they satisfy the need of a family environment everyone feels.