The Sharing in the Streets Service began life in 2002 to meet the need for the Community to become active in going out to meet homeless people and to compare experiences in the various areas in order to come together in common action for sharing and removing the causes.
In the early 1980s, two Community members chose to live on the streets for 8 months both with and as homeless people. This experience led to the discovery of an invisible world, a populace on the margins of our cities, sometimes right on our doorstep, not afforded even the most basic rights. These are very diverse people, some have lost their job, others are non-EU migrants, drug addicts, elderly people, prostitutes and people with border-line personality disorder, all of them brought together not only by their lack of a stable home but also by their being denied an officially recognised standing, a civil and social status and, above all, by their being burdened by a massive sense of loneliness.
Ever since then, keeping faith with the mandate "when the poor do not seek us out, we must go and seek them out ", the Community has been going out to meet them in railways station, under bridges and wherever they take refuge in search of a safe place for the night.
In 1987, the first "Bethlehem Hut " was opened in Rimini, an emergency evening and night shelter where these “invisible people” can find not only a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in but also the warmth of the family they had never had, experienced through sharing at such times as dinner and just chatting together, gradually enabling us to establish meaningful relationships with them.
The Pope John XXIII Community has opened Bethlehem Huts in a number of Italian cities and also overseas, among them, in Bologna, Forlì, Milan and Tirana, Albania, and we have set up street units whose members go out every evening to meet these “invisible poor”.
These days, people coming to a Bethlehem Hut also have the opportunity to escape from their current condition through personalised plans for social re-integration. These plans depend on the extent to which homeless people recover the desire to live a life of dignity, on their ability to fight against the causes of injustice and on the fraternal support of those people who have become their “nearest and dearest”.
The Sharing in the Streets Service also works alongside homeless people with roadside canteens in Rome and Milan, day centres, in Forlì working with the diocesan Caritas association and by running a friendship hostel in Rimini, in partnership with the municipal authority.
The service coordinates the action taken by APG23 to raise awareness of and report on the condition of homeless people. It plans information campaigns, pubic events and engages in dialogue with the relevant institutions in order to find practical solutions for the people living in the streets.
In October of every year, on the day the United Nations dedicates to extreme poverty, the service organises a huge public demonstration entitled “homeless nights”.