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Abstract

Adult begging in Italy has been decriminalized since a Constitutional Court decision in 1995 and an ensuing law, no. 205, in 1999. Nonetheless, beggars, particularly Roma ones, are still perceived by the public as a nuisance, like an issue that should be dealt with. Sensible to the pressure of its constituency, even Florence—a city with a tradition of openness and inclusion—has taken measures against begging and other similar street-level economic activities. Between 2007 and 2008, the first wave of city action in Florence was directed at windshield cleaners at traffic lights. Even though the policy was challenged, it produced the intended effect of removing such beggars from their posts. Today, a second wave of city action, visible since 2013 and based on a very loose municipal regulation, has taken the form of routine de facto pressure exerted by local police on beggars that aims to remove beggars from the touristic city center. In the following pages we will first present the historical background of the matter, from the nineteenth-century criminal approach to the decriminalization of adult begging under the pressure of the Italian Constitutional Court in the 1990s. Second, we turn to the local municipalities’ reaction to this change and explain how they tried to fill the space with a number of administrative measures—whose legitimacy may often still be questioned. Third, we focus on the experience of Florence by describing the mayor’s failed ordinances and the Regulation on Urban Police adopted in 2008 and currently in force. Finally, we present our ongoing work: specifically, the pending action against the alleged “data-base of beggars” and the activity against the potentially discriminatory police practice of fining beggars. In both cases, we will highlight how the Italian procedural system and culture seems to not support this kind of experimental public interest litigation.