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Home for Homeless Women

A corner of the 100-seat dining room of the Accoglienza Femminile of Fra Biagio Conte's Missione Pace e Speranza
Last week I visited the Women's Home, one of three centers comprising Brother Biagio Conte's Mission of Peace and Hope. It houses roughly a hundred homeless women, palermitans and immigrants, single women, women with young children and women with infants. It is housed inside the former convent of Saint Catherine of Sienna in Via Garibaldi. Fra Biagio slept on a cot in the street in front of the abandoned convent and did a week-long hunger strike in order to have the city hand over the former convent for the use of homeless, destitute women. It was the first of several hunger strikesfirst to take possession of the convent, and then to expand its holding capacity. The convent, abandoned for decades, was in ruins when the city deeded it to the non-profit mission.. The homeless men who live in Biagio Conte's OTHER two centers, which house, feed and care for about 800 men -- local citizens, indigents, immigrants, vagabonds, handicapped, young and aged, black, white, brown and yellow, sick people, mentally disabled, physically disabled, ex-convicts, refugees, alcoholics, drug addicts and schizophrenics-- used their talents to turn the convent into a dignified, lovely place for the women to live and raise children, with gardens, a room for artists to work, a room to learn sewing, a modern kitchen, private rooms, baths, a fountain with aquatic plants, a handmade cast iron grille fence and gate, and annexed church, a study room for the children who all attend school. Three young nuns left everything -- families and their studies and their former lives -- to devote themselves to the care of homeless women. Countless volunteers from all walks of life come to help. The homeless men used their talents as carpenters, iron workers, plumbers, stonemasons, electricians, gardenrs, painters and builders to create this place of solace, a new beginning for many.
Carmela, a Palermitan woman who for six years slept on the sidewalk at the Quattro Canti, the Four Corners, the exact center of the Old City of Palermo, now lives here in her own little suite with her own bathroom. She still talks to herself, but now she smiles and crochets woolen hats for the newborns and makes shawls for the elderly. She gave me a hat that fits me perfectly and I am proud to wear it.
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