Home­less ‘Friends of the Pope’ face evic­tion over fights and filth

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD -

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.’’

REUTERS

Home­less peo­ple sleep­ing un­der the Bernini’s colon­nade in the Vat­i­can City are be­ing moved on af­ter po­lice said they were a se­cu­rity threat.

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