It was the grand reputation of Bologna that led Romania native Roxana Vasile to travel here, 679 miles from home. Victim of the Romanian foster care system, she was searching for a better life, away from poverty, and from long days of low-paid work.
“I don’t talk with my family any more. We fought because I was working illegally, and we had no money,” she said in an interview at the Centro Beltrame, Bologna’s largest shelter for homeless people.
“Some fellow young friends of mine told me to go to Italy; they said there were jobs there for us, and that we’d be working in houses for people.”
But when Vasile and five of her friends arrived, on a trip paid for by their acquaintances, she discovered that she was expected to work as a prostitute.
Jobless and in an unfamiliar country, Vasile escaped prostitution, but not the fact of being an illegal migrant in Italy. After three years of living on the streets, she fell in love with and became pregnant by an illegal, homeless Romanian migrant. Since she was pregnant, she was allowed into a shelter, and was given a temporary Italian ID, due to the obesity that resulted from her pregnancy. Yet, as she was homeless, her three month-old baby was taken away, and given up for adoption.
It was when she arrived at the Centro Beltrame in 2015 that Vasile received the help she needed. “This place gave me the peace of mind to dismiss everything around me, to just carry on in life,” she recalled fondly.
Nearly 51,000 people were recorded as homeless in Italy in 2015, up from about 40,600 in 2011, according to a report by the Italian statistics agency Istat. Nearly 60 percent were foreign born. But, in a country still reeling from the Eurozone financial crisis that began in 2009, the others are native Italians, left homeless by unemployment, or by drug or mental health struggles. Some are also pensioners, whose income is too small to sustain them. Nearly 86 percent of all people in Italy recorded as homeless were men, and nearly a quarter of all homeless people were over age 54, according to Istat.