About us

Pubblicato il 30.11.2021 in Chi Siamo

The ONDS (National Observatory Solidarity in railway stations) is a project launched in 2006 by Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, in collaboration with ANCI (Italian National Association of Cities) and the social cooperative Europe Consulting Onlus.

The project

The project was born with a double aim: creating a network of the Help Centers in the Italian train stations and carrying on studies, strategies, analysis, data and best practices concerning social interventions in railway areas.

In fact, in the last decades stations have undergone a total reorganization of spaces and functions, to enhance the multiple vocation of the often remarkable buildings. Stations have thus acquired a total new function, which brought along a change in the general perception of the area, now seen as a pleasant and fancy piazza, where to hang out regardless the trains. Marginalised people, who have always found shelter in the stations, have not ceased to attend them. Yet, in such a gleaming new environment, they have become more visible – and problematic.

With the aim of tackling homelessness in railway stations and supporting marginalized people in their quest for a better life, local NGO’s and Public Administrations have joined the “Social Policies Department” of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in the creation of the Help Centers. 

The Help Centers.

The Help Center is a place where specifically trained social operators (psychologists, sociologists, social workers, educators, etc.) provide guidance and orientation to marginalised people towards the social services available in the city. 

More than just an infopoint, it is rather a “filter” between the needs of the homeless, the rules of cohabitation in a complex “city within the city” such as a railway station, and the answer of the formal and informal social services. At the heart of this system, the Help Center offers his support to all the stakeholders, to assure the maximum benefit for them all. 

Generally, Help Centers are based on cooperation between the railway company, that provides the spaces for free, a third sector organisation, providing the service, and local Public Administrations, providing financial support where possible, or institutional support if public funds can’t allow any other contribution. Funds are also provided, in most cases, by different donors, namely Foundations, or by State or specific EU projects. In this setup, third sector organisations play the role of facilitator to ease the dialogue between the railway company and the local authority, which might be tempted to consider marginalised people wandering in the stations as one another’s problem. 

The Help Center chairs periodic meetings with the station stakeholders, local authorities, charities, to plan and discuss social interventions at different levels: from specific cases of single homeless persons, to more complex actions, such as emergency shelters in case of extremely cold weather.

Furthermore, the daily outreach and monitoring activity makes the Help Center a proactive observer of the evolution of social phenomena in the station – another key function to manage, in order to be ready to face new social issues, for example migration waves. 


The network.

Today, Help Centers are located in 18 Italian railway stations, from North to South, mainly in medium/large cities: Chivasso, Torino, Genova, Milano, Brescia, Cagliari, Bologna, Pisa, Firenze, Roma, Pescara, Napoli, Foggia, Bari, Rovereto, Reggio Calabria, Messina and Catania. 

They all share the same principles, which are summarized in a Charter, defining ethical and professional guidance. As for the operations, each center works autonomously to respond to the specific needs of the area where they are located. 

In consideration of the importance of the Help Centers within the CSR strategy of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, their diffusion has been included in the industrial plan 2016-2020. According to that, the opening of 6 new Help Centers is already under process, among which 4 will be supported by specific funds allocated by the Regione Toscana, which has invested 1 million euros for the creation of new Help Centers in spaces provided pro bono by Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, or for implementation of social activities in railway areas.


The research activity

More than just a network, the ONDS is also a think-tank, where studies, strategies, analysis, data and best practices are shared and developed, in order to make social intervention more effective. In this respect, Europe Consulting Onlus has developed advanced IT instruments for the ONDS, in order to keep records of all the interventions and to create personal files for everyone who has benefited from the Help Center assistance, which resulted in a very complex web-based platform called Anthology®, winner of the 2012 Sodalitas Social Award.

Data-protection legislation and protocols strictly regulate the recording of data, and all the users are duly informed of all these aspects.

Beyond the everyday use of this information, Anthology has two primary functions. First, it keeps a record of the development of social intervention for each user assisted, and allows all the operators to be aware of what has been done, so that no time is wasted in tracking back actions, or in doing anything twice, or wrong. 

The second function is to provide, in real time, a picture of homelessness in railway areas, with a very high level of accuracy. Age, sex, physical and mental conditions, addictions, but also needs, expectations, housing conditions, job skills, education, can be investigated by Anthology query system, building up a detailed demographic description.

Such data serve as scientific base for the development of new services and strategies, customized for the needs they witness. For example, it has been evidenced how critical the health conditions of homeless people are, due to their harsh living conditions and the difficulty to access to the sanitary system. The ONDS has therefore fostered the initiatives in the healthcare area, such as medical and/or dental interventions, protocols of understanding with sanitary institutions (hospitals, alcohol and drug addiction services, volunteer medical associations, etc.). It is particularly worth of mention Dottor Binario, an initiative carried on with Incontradonna Onlus, to offer yearly brest check-ups to homeless women.

Training of Help Center social operators is also an issue addressed by the ONDS: seminars and training courses are organized to increase the operators’ skills concerning the evolution of homelessness and social marginalization. Specific vocational training projects are also offered to the beneficiaries of the Help Centers, according to local resources and self-entrepreneurial opportunities.


The international development: “Gare Européenne et Solidarité”.

Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane discovered soon not to be the only railway company committed to CSR activities in the field of social marginalization. 

Following the path traced by the ONDS, FS searched for similar initiatives among the other railway companies in Europe. After a period of informal exchange, FS with SNCF (France), SNCB (Belgium) and CFL (Luxembourg) founded the European Charter for development of social initiatives in stations in Rome on 29 October 2008. Such initiative was based on the awareness that the problem of social distress in stations can no longer be tackled only at national level, being a European, or better still, a global phenomenon that requires complex synergies. Since then, 12 other European Railway Companies have joined the network: Deutsche Bahn (Germany), HZ Infrastruktura (Croatia), Trainose (Greece), ŽS Infrastructure(Serbia), ČD (Czech Republic), CFR SA (Romania), DSB (Denmark), Jernhusen (Sweden), NRIC (Bulgaria), NSB (Norway), PKP (Poland) and SŽ (Slovenia). Other Institutions, Public Administrations and Associations, including voluntary organizations, have accepted and shared the principles of the Charter.

In fact, the goal of the European Charter of Solidarity is mainly to create a large network − integrating railway companies, Public Authorities and Third Sector organisations and enterprises − that operates with a common methodology to take action on social issues in stations, firstly favouring the exchange of knowledge and best practice amongst partners.

In spite of any difference between industrial strategies and local context, a common thread unites the policies of each railway company participating in this network: the need to incorporate safety and solidarity; that is, to guarantee travellers efficient service and clean, welcoming stations, but also to try to help anyone who takes shelter in a station out of dire need.