ROME, April 20 (Reuters) - On the banks of Rome's historic Tiber River, the homeless use wood, cardboard and plastic tarpaulins to make a shelter, protecting themselves from the elements as best they can.
This corner of the city's Prati neighborhood is a far cry from the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum or other parts of the Italian capital thronged by visitors from the world over. Nearby are the headquarters of the Italian national broadcaster RAI.
Belongings in plastic bags hang on nails hammered into the wall of a pedestrian arch under a bridge that spans the Tiber. Litter is strewn on the ground and, with no washing or toilet facilities in the makeshift settlement, the acrid smell of life on the streets is hard to ignore.
People end up living on the streets mainly because of losing their jobs and divorce or the breakdown of a relationship. Even so, with no residency papers, many of the homeless people Reuters spoke to were reluctant to tell their stories for fear of problems with the authorities.
"That's life," says Gerard, 60, from the Netherlands, his sparkling blue eyes filled with sadness. He sleeps on an old mattress in a pedestrian tunnel under the Tiber.
Victor, 46, from Romania lost his job as a bricklayer. Vassily, also from Romania, says he is unable to work because of problems with his back.
According to ISTAT, Italy's National Statistics Institute, more than 50,000 people used an official night shelter for at least one night in November and December 2014.
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Many of the homeless here are from overseas. Maria, 38, comes from Romania and lives on the banks of the Tiber with her husband.
The highest proportion of homeless people is found in northwestern Italy, accounting for 38 pct of the total. Italy's business capital Milan has 24 pct of the total, followed by Rome with 15 pct.
Whatever their stories, told or untold, the future for these homeless people gathered on the banks of a river is far from certain. Even when they do manage to get a place in an overnight shelter, after hours of queuing, they have to leave early the next morning, they say.
For another day on the streets.