CNN Photos

The faces of Rome's homeless

Photographer Giovanni Troilo says the image of the homeless man used to be “cynically reassuring.”

Those of us with jobs and shelter pity them, possibly feel guilty, but we don’t empathize, he said: “You just think those persons are so far from your condition that you will never end up living on the streets.”

But in the streets of Rome, the photographer encountered homeless people who were successful at one time — the fallen who have either lost their jobs or had their wages cut so much that they can’t afford a home anymore.

“Some of them made an aware choice, some have lost their job,” Troilo said.

A man named Willy, seen here in the first image, told Troilo he is eligible for pension payments in Belgium, where he once worked and where his family still lives. Instead, he now spends his days praying at churches and his nights sleeping under bridges in Rome. Alessandro, pictured in another image, is retired and has a home, but he’s choosing to live outdoors so his pregnant daughter can raise her son there. Another subject still works as a mechanic, but because his wages were cut, he can’t afford a home. He lives under an arch in a Roman aqueduct.

Of the 50,000 homeless people in Italy, 62% ended up living on the streets after losing their job, according to a 2012 survey by the Italian Institute of Statistics. Only 6.2% of the homeless never had a job, according to the survey.

The homeless have a societal structure of their own to divvy access to food, water, clothing and shelter, Troilo said. Sometimes it’s decided diplomatically. Other times through fighting.

“Even in the streets, there are more- and less-suitable places to live,” Troilo said, “and especially during the winter, the access to those places is ruled by competitive processes.”

Troilo said he was inspired by a book, written by French author Marc Augé, that chronicles the life of a man who was forced to live out of his car after his rent increased.

“The new category of homeless people, that of homeless that still have a job but cannot pay a rent with their salary, is the one that still has a relationship with other social classes. This is the category on which Marc Augé analysis focuses, and that interests me very much,” Troilo said.

Moving down to society’s bottom rung can force one to lose his head, Troilo said, but it can also enlighten.

“Forced to look inside himself in such a difficult moment, he can discover and understand, lucidly, the insanity of the world,” he said.

- Lauren Russell, CNN