What does coronavirus lockdown mean for Italian street vendors?

How staff and vendors of Milan-based street paper Scarp de'tenis are coping

With the impact of the coronavirus worsening in Italy, the whole of the country has now been placed on lockdown, with sporting events and schools suspended until April 3, and severe limits placed on travel. The advice is clear: stay home, self-isolate, but what about those for whom self-isolation isn’t a possibility?

Monthly street paper Scarp de’ tenis, which distributes around 14,000 papers to vendors in Turin, Genoa, Verona, Vicenza, Florence, Naples and Rimini, as well as Milan, where its main operation and half of its vendors are based, has been seriously affected.

The decision was made on March 9 for their editorial staff to close for the next two weeks, with sales of the newspaper suspended, and their April issue cancelled. The paper works with approximately 150 vendors across the country, privileging those who are already in some kind of sheltered accommodation. In addition to selling the paper, many homeless people contribute on the editorial side.

The magazine’s editor Stefano Lampertico said: “The impact of the virus is terrible. This week, all services are closed. The number of sick people is increasing day by day. We are all living in the red zone. We can’t move. We can’t travel. We are all staying at home.”

To combat the uncertainty Italian vendors are facing, the magazine has begun raising money via online sales which is now being distributed to those in need, although this has also proved difficult.

It is clear that essential services for the poor cannot fail

Scarp de’ tenis is partially funded by Catholic charity Caritas Italiana, who also organise soup kitchens and food distribution for the homeless across the country. Caritas’ director Don Francesco Suddo published an emergency statement this week insisting that despite the lockdown, their wider activity will continue: “Even with all the necessary precautions and with the necessary prudence, and without wanting to expose others to unnecessary risks, it is clear that essential services for the poor cannot fail, such as canteens, emporiums, dormitories, the listening centers, which the Caritas at the diocesan and parish level ensure daily.”

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Milan has the highest concentration of homeless people in Italy, and last year it was announced that an extra €5.3million will be allocated to homeless services in the city over until December 2021. Part of this has been the establishment of five Via Fittizia, or “fictitious residences”, across the city, which guarantee those who live on the streets the right to a registered residence. While this doesn’t guarantee housing, without a registered residence Italians are unable to access the national health service.

The Italian Federation for Homeless People (fio.PSD) this week distributed a guidebook to all municipalities across Italy with information on how they too could set up these residences, going some way to safeguarding the wider homeless population.

In a column written for the International Network of Street Papers on March 13Lampertico outlined how the outpouring of support for vendors since the lockdown has been heartening.

He said: “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.”

And Lampertico is also defiant about how Scarp de’ tenis will return once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

“There is still no light at the end of the tunnel but, alas, we’re hanging in there,” he said. “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.”

Picture shows Scarp de’ tennis vendor Marcello, courtesy of INSP