“Will you sign against drugs?”
“Do you speak English?”
They are located at busy intersections of Venice, in twos or threes. They hold clipboards, and ask you to sign your name to their anti-drug message. If someone signs, they then ask for a donation.
I had always found them vaguely threatening and tended to rush past them without making eye contact.
Then my landlord and I passed a small group of them near San Vidal, and I asked him about them. His standpoint was neutral. He wasn’t sure about giving them money, but he would give them the time of day.
So, I had an attitude shift, and the next time I saw them, I stopped to talk to one of them. She was one who had often tried to stop me in the past, and had always struck me as quite aggressive, and to be honest, she scared me a little. How wrong I was. She proved friendly and willing to tell me about herself and about the organisation they represent.
She said she had been a heroin addict, and with the help of this institution “Lautari”, she had been rehabilitated, 4 years ago. The young man with her related a similar story.
As far as I can determine from speaking with them, looking at the leaflet they gave me, and from their website http://www.lautari.it/, they have 6 communities throughout Italy, including Rome and Florence. It seems that the organisation works with individuals and families to rehabilitate and reintegrate drug addicts. It also appears to be a legally registered business, and the donations are tax-deductible.
Their presence on the streets in various cities is part of the reintegration process (and I’d guess, a way to pay for the treatment they have received). Boy, if they can put up with the daily rejection and scorn from the passers-by, they’re well on the way to self-confidence.
Are they genuine? I still don’t really know.
Are they human beings? They most certainly are.