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Antonella, her friend Cetty, and Cetty's newborn daughter, Nicole, in the Convento delle Vergini which they occupied.
From our kitchen balcony I can see the lights are on in the cloistered convent across Piazza Venezia. Since December 2013, the convent, empty for two years after the last three aged nuns living there were transfered, has been occupied by palermitan homeless families. I visited them two days ago. Ten families, 35 people, of whom 22 are children.
They moved in their furniture, the bassinets, the kitchen cabinets, the bedrooms, the sink and stove, the washing machines. They have kids; they can't live in the street. They can't live in their cars, although some of them have. It's a bright clean place. They are not vandals. They have done their best to make the vast convent a home. There are iron grilles on the windows and opaque plastic covers screwed to the grilles, so the cloistered nuns couldn't look out their windows. Cetty hung sheer orange curtains to soften them. Cetty's kitchen window faces my kitchen balcony across the street.
There is no work. The wait for a casa popolare, public housing, is now five years. The apartments confiscated from the mafia go to government functions, like university dormitories, or the headquarters of Addio Pizzo, a non-profit that combats mob extortionists. The "social housing" solution ( privates paid by the city to house and feed the indigent) offered bad food and no dignity. Finding long-term emergency shelter that keeps entire families together is nearly impossible. Yet the children need a bright clean place to grow up and be happy. Now.
So Roberta's husband climbed to the roof of this convent, entered through a window, opened the door from the inside, let his family in, then changed the locks. One by one, they invited other friends and family in similar dire straits to share the space. The Catholic Church owns the building and wants them out. Here they will stay until the next time they are evicted, rudely, like criminals, by police and firemen in a dawn raid, with no thought for the frightened children.
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