Homeless ‘Friends of the Pope’ face eviction over fights and filth
Tramps drawn to the Vatican by Pope Francis’s offer of showers and a barber shop have been told to move on, after police judged them a security threat and locals complained of fights and public urination in St Peter’s Square.
The number of homeless people sleeping rough under the marble colonnade surrounding the square and nearby streets is estimated to have doubled since the pontiff made good on a vow to create ‘‘a poor church, for the poor’’. Apart from setting up showers and a barber shop in the colonnade, he has invited them on a guided tour of the Sistine Chapel and bussed them to see the Turin shroud, complete with pocket money.
Romans living near the Vatican have, however, complained that the so-called ‘‘Friends of the Pope’’ tend to relieve themselves in the street, so a strong smell of urine and excrement greets pilgrims as they arrive at St Peter’s for audiences. In a video posted this month that went viral, a Roman berates a tramp after filming him urinating against one of the colonnade’s marble columns.
Tramps bedding down for the night have also fought each other, and police discovered that some were extorting money from fellow tramps before letting them use the pope’s showers.
Local businesses have been afraid to complain publicly for fear of offending the Vatican.
Police decided to act this week when they decided the tramps had become a security threat. Officers found that they needed to constantly check the belongings stashed in and around the square by the homeless people during the day. This week Vatican police moved in, ordering the tramps to leave and to take their cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and gas stoves with them.
‘‘It’s a question of security and good sense,’’ the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said.
Italian media reported that Francis had been informed of the evictions.
Burke said the ban was only effective during the daytime, and the tramps would be welcome to return at night to sleep under the colonnade.
‘‘By day, they cannot stay there for security reasons. Their bags and suitcases cannot be continuously checked, and it was not always possible to know what belonged to who when they walked off and left their belongings there.’’
Homeless people sleeping under the Bernini’s colonnade in the Vatican City are being moved on after police said they were a security threat.