New at the (Milan) Zoo

July 12, 1992

The lesson is clear when a facility deemed unfit for animals is seized by the homeless as an improvement in their condition. Fortunately, this tale does not come from America, where the homeless on the streets of New York, Washington and Baltimore are familiar sights.

No, it is in Milan, fashion and industry capital of Italy, that the old, central-city zoo was closed because cooping the animals in its small cages was considered inhumane. Animal rights groups protested. The zoo was condemned, its animals moved to more spacious zoos.

But then some 100 or so homeless men moved in. They don't relish being stared at as though they were some new species of beast. They just want more ample quarters to spread out under shelter than they have on the streets of Milan. The response of one city councilman to publicity about them was to announce that the zoo structures will be leveled to make way for public gardens.

Milan is embarrassed because it is the sleek, prosperous hub of Northern Italy. Poverty is what they have in Naples and Sicily. But it turns out that all Europe has its flotsam and jetsam of largely non-European laborers, who were let in for the dirty work the natives don't want to do, and bear the brunt of economic downturns.

It is not only Baltimore that needs more shelters to house the homeless. Milan found it has one and wants rid of it. What the Milanese find unbearable, apparently, is not the absence of shelters but the presence of one. They had better get used to it until the European Community sorts out its economy and immigration policies and free movement of labor. That will take some doing. Meanwhile, it is not only large four-legged mammals but also homeless men who deserve something better than the Milan Zoo.

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