Homeless people: a question of humanity and fraternity

Homeless people exist. Calling them by name is a question of humanity and fraternity.
February 09, 2021
Sœur Cristina Conti et Augusto Montaruli
Filles de la charité
Homeless people exist. To call them by name is a matter of humanity and fraternity; to recognise them by a personal document is to build a healthy, united, open and creative society.
Without residency, there are no real opportunities for civil, social or cultural advancement. Residence can be the hand offered to resume the journey.

Augusto Montaruli talks to Sister Cristina Conti HC, coordinator of the services of "La Carità di Santa Luisa" called "Charity" at 24 Via Nizza in Turin. Many volunteers, including some Daughters of Charity, work in this day centre for and with homeless people.

Sister Cristina, how have you organised yourself in these times of pandemic and containment?

We have tried to apply the different decrees in the procedures that guarantee maximum security for all, without diminishing the value of the relationship, the attention and the care of the homeless people we welcome. Write people with a capital P, because it is important to underline their humanity, their individuality, their particularities... They are not a category, an anonymous crowd... We are all special. Everyone can be accompanied to value their life in an objective way, giving it a renewed meaning, in the same way in this time of pandemic.

How many are your friends, as you call the people you support?

There are many, the number varies, but looking at all our services, we are talking about hundreds of friends every week and unfortunately thousands every year. Our service is characterised by mobility. There are many people we meet only once, when they pass through Turin. Every moment is even more important. Every smile. Every word that can be meaningful to that person. It has happened, you know: there are those who have come back to express their gratitude because a sentence said at a certain moment helped them to change course.

We have a perhaps old-fashioned image of homeless people, even a little romantic in some cases: those who are homeless by choice of life and not as a consequence of their life. Perhaps it is time to say who they are?

A novel would come out of it! They are so different... Actually, it would be a collection of poems, because these friends, even though some of their stories are very... fantastic, they actually remind me of poetry. Sometimes it's not easy to understand them, their lines are slippery, it's hard to follow them... but if you let those words evoke echoes and references in you, you start to understand them a little more...

Poetry, because with them we go through all ages, all languages, all genres... with them we go around the world every day... Poetry because we are passionate about their lives, their stories, and few have really chosen this path freely. They often decide to get rid of situations of difficulty, precariousness, suffering, violence, misery... they decide, but it is not a choice detached from circumstances...

Don't you think that they too can become a resource thanks to their experience, thanks to what they know or have been able to do? 

I can only say this: many volunteers work in our service and they often ask to bring the service to others, and this happens especially to young people, of whom there are many. Well, this attraction comes from friends, from the homeless people we welcome. Among them are masters of life... and in any case, sharing with street people always makes us grow. Their experiences should be studied in order to learn survival strategies.

If you had the power to solve the situation, where would you start? What would be the first step you would take?

As you mentioned earlier: I would improve their own resources by encouraging them to express themselves in concrete activities... Everyone needs a home, but the first thing they ask for is: "let me do something". Our hands speak about us, and it is also through the action of our hands that we form our soul and spirit... 'Doing' expresses identity, dignity. And it helps us not to become obsessed with the problems, obstacles, humiliations we have experienced.

Homeless people don't vote, is this the cause of a problem that will never be solved?

Undocumented people don't vote, homeless people don't vote. There is a condition that is a fact: not having a place to live. But there can be no question of "disappearing" from the official registers because of the difficulties I face and that prevents me from getting out of this unavailability. A homeless person who is not on the register not only does not vote, but also cannot renew his identity card in Turin without paying a (triple) fine sooner or later. Not to mention the forced expropriation that follows... If you don't have a penny in your pocket, you leave the municipal offices to find the money you need and there are two ways to do it, both humiliating: either you start begging from passers-by, or... you take someone else's money. "Nemo" was the nickname given to the last friend we accompanied to the registry office. By insisting, he managed not to pay the fine... but now he is worried about the consequences. Why does this have to happen? A society that does not struggle to call its children by name is a sick society. It is a society on the road to disintegration, to bankruptcy. This reflection should influence the search for an electoral consensus. There are homeless people and there are thousands of them. It is in everyone's interest to integrate them into society. And that is how we build a truer and fairer world together.

To read the original article: here