By Stefano Lampertico
From Milan to Seoul; from Scarp de’ tenis to Big Issue vendors – they hold no distinction for Covid-19. It makes no exceptions and looks no one in the eye. Vendors of street papers in Milan, like others in coronavirus-affected cities around the world, who have always known their streets as places of work, encounters and interaction, now find them to be dark places. The effects on those who sell Scarp de’ tenis – an Italian street paper backed by Caritas Ambrosiana and Caritas Italiana – will be harsh. Its heart is in Milan, sold on its streets and, in particular, following Masses – which are now suspended – in other northern cities such as Turin, Genoa, Venice, Vicenza, and Verona. Ordinances and a sense of responsibility stop our vendors from being able to sell the street paper. The vendors – who are mostly homeless or carry a history of poverty and severe marginalisation on their shoulders – are hit hard. The sale of the paper, and the income from it, is the only income for many of them. For this reason, and until the crisis ends, we have put the March issue on sale online and in digital form on our website.
To those of our readers who follow us, support our project and enjoy our stories, we have launched an appeal to buy Scarp in an alternative format than paper. Recently, many people have promptly responded and expressed their support by purchasing the magazine or taking out a subscription. Although we will face a reduction in sales, we also know how important the human relationships are that often bind the vendors and the buyers of the paper on the streets and in our parishes. We are in no way discouraged and, harking back to Enzo Jannacci’s song that gave us the title of our street paper, “life is beautiful”. Always, even during difficult times.
Life isn’t easy in the Red Zone imposed by central government across the North of the country (and yet more restrictive measures seem to be in the pipeline) requesting every citizen to stay at home, initiate smart working practices and reduce movements to a minimum [Italy has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Europe, and the death toll has passed 1,000 people. There is a nationwide lockdown]. It is particularly difficult for people experiencing homelessness, who are forced to live on the streets or may have to pass the night in immigration centres and shelters. Last winter, Milan only guaranteed around 2500 beds for the homeless, and 300 slept on the streets. From this point of view, the wheels of the solidarity machine are turning, guaranteeing a minimum of assistance to everyone, and improving, where possible, access to essential services.
The towns are doing much, as are the municipalities, particularly those of small to medium size where it is easier to find interpersonal relations that can guarantee, for example, the same essential services, especially to older people (home food deliveries, a minimum of home care and reassurance via telephone). Volunteers are doing a lot in collaboration with the institutions, and the generosity of the Milanese goes a long way. You should know that in Milan there is a saying that defines its inhabitants. It says: “Milan with heart in hand”. There it is.
The cities look as bleak as deserts these days. Milan, hustle and bustle central, with its uncontrollable rhythm, has unearthed the sound of silence. Public transport is running, but it’s empty. Offices are closed and many commercial companies have decided to cease their activities. The authority’s aim is to stop the spread of the virus and thus allow treatment for those affected. Beds in hospitals are all taken, especially in intensive care wards where the most gravely ill are treated. An increase in the number of sick people would seriously jeopardise the entire healthcare system in the country. There is still no light at the end of the tunnel but, alas, we’re hanging in there. We’re sure we’ll return from this even stronger. Difficult days still lie ahead but we’re capable of overcoming the obstacles we face.
If you can support Scarp de’ tenis at this time through online magazine sales, visit www.social-shop.it
Stefano Lampertico is editor of Scarp de’ tenis.
Street papers can access INSP’s Covid-19 resources here.