City Angels alight in Bologna

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News From Italy

City Angels alight in Bologna

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Teams of 'guardian angels' are to start patrolling the streets of Bologna this week, to protect those in need and help prevent crime. Volunteers start making their rounds of this central university town on Friday, concentrating their efforts on neighbourhoods considered trouble hotspots.

The teams of three to six people, provided by the charity City Angels, will initially make their rounds on Tuesday and Friday evenings only. If there is enough interest in the scheme, the patrols will be extended to other nights of the week. While there is nothing new about volunteer teams of private citizens doing their bit for the neighbourhood, City Angels focuses on trying to address the causes of crime by helping those in need. Founded in Milan in 1994, the charity pays particular to the needs of the homeless but helps a variety of vulnerable - and sometimes dangerous - people. Drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, immigrants, the elderly, people with disabilities, victims of crime, prison inmates and even stray animals have benefited from the group's services. ''The best way to provide security is through solidarity,'' said City Angels founder Mario Furlan, explaining the idea at the heart of the group's mission. Although the City Angels volunteers are not equipped with weapons, they undergo extensive training before starting work.

This entails two months of lessons, including eight sessions of self-defence and team tactics in the gym, as well as classroom instruction in first aid, addiction, psychology, communication, and legal concepts, among other things. Trainees who do not pass the exam at the end, are not allowed to join the street teams. According to Furlan, the extensive training program is what sets City Angels apart from other volunteer patrol groups. ''These teams are of little use and can even be dangerous, as they usually include people who are completely unprepared,'' he said. ''Our teams are thoroughly trained and must attend our course before they begin patrols''. The City Angels started work in Milan 14 years ago, before branching out to other towns, including Rome, Salerno, Terni and Varese.

Until now, the only other cities with regular patrols have been Milan and Turin, where the City Angels with their red, logoed tops and blue berets have become a familiar sight. In addition to protecting people from petty crime and distributing food, blankets and support, the City Angels have launched a number of more specific initiatives.

These include the creation of Italy's first 24-hour homeless hostel, encouraging sex workers off the streets and into protected accommodation, helping immigrants integrate into Italian society, spending time with the elderly and helping addicts and alcoholics get back on their feet.

According to the City Angels website, the volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds: around 60% are men, 30% are foreign nationals, and while most are aged 25-40, the group's oldest member is in his seventies.


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