For months on end, Giovanni, a 53 year old man from Naples – a hard worker who fell victim to precarious work in Malta – had no choice but to sit on a low wall in Msida and ask pedestrians passing by for money to buy food to eat.
Not used to making such requests, seeing as he has earned a living for himself his whole life, he did so with difficulty, and without success, losing hope in the kindness of people along the way.
Now, he has strangers offering him a bicycle, a free massage, meals at their restaurants and even a tour around Malta for him to get a better impression of the country.
The downward spiral
Alessandro, an Italian man living in Malta, passed by Giovanni on a few occasions earlier in June. For him, it was the language that Giovanni was begging in – his own mother tongue – that made him stop to converse.
“Giovanni would tell everyone who passes him by ‘mangiare’ in a low voice,” Alessandro recalled to The Shift. “I told him, Giovanni, not everyone understands Italian here.”
Throughout the duration of a week, Alessandro stopped to speak to Giovanni several times, and slowly got to know his story – how he was a carpenter in Italy, how he worked for a company in Malta for four years, without a contract, and was suddenly left without a job and any social security compensation, and how that was followed by a two month gig at yet another company, where he was not given a cent for his work.
Not being able to afford rent anymore, and after several failed attempts to find a job through social media, Giovanni was forced to leave his apartment and went to live on the street, where his mobile was stolen. The police became aware of Giovanni’s situation and found him a dormitory to sleep in temporarily at Malta’s YMCA.
Giovanni’s case is one of an increasing number of instances of homelessness in Malta. In April, YMCA Malta CEO Anthony Camilleri warned that the number of people who are homeless is on the rise and that official numbers do not reflect the reality of the situation.
“A debate on the topic needs to emerge in public discourse before it becomes “a peril to the society of tomorrow,” Camilleri had cautioned.
The kindness of strangers
“With no money, no mobile phone and unable to speak English, unfortunately, Giovanni fell into despair and stopped fighting,” Alessandro wrote in his GoGetFunding campaign on Wednesday where, with Giovanni’s consent, he set out with the aim of collecting one thousand euro to buy him the necessities: clothes, a mobile phone, a haircut, food, and a bicycle.
In less than two days, Alessandro has collected some €3000. Besides the financial help, people have offered all sorts of services, items and job interviews. “When I showed Giovanni how much we had raised, he started crying in disbelief,” said Alessandro, who was also taken aback by the response to his call for help.
In a Facebook group dedicated to expats in Malta, tens of community members jumped in to help. “I need a carpenter, please pm me,” one said, “I have a mobile for him, let’s meet next week,” someone else wrote. “Let’s get Giovanni back on his feet,” wrote another.
Meanwhile, people shared links to groups and organisations who have causes targeted specifically at helping persons below the poverty line in Malta, such as the Food Bank and Valletta’s Soup Kitchen.
Fueled by this community effort, Alessandro will be spending much of his free time in the coming days and weeks helping Giovanni to get back on his feet, from small but significant activities like taking him for a haircut to more long-term solutions such as meeting with people who have come forward with job opportunities for Giovanni.
Giovanni’s story sheds light on the reality of the increasing cases of homelessness in Malta, as well as on the power that communities can have when they come together.
“It’s good to have donations but it’s also good to talk to homeless people when you come across them. Because they are there it is clear they have a problem and it could be that they did not know about all the options available to them to help themselves get out of that problem,” Alessandro said.