A homeless man sleeps at Bologna main railway station, Bologna, Italy, December 31, 2015.
ROPI / Alamy Stock Photo—Alamy
By Ethan Wolff-Mann
May 5, 2016

In wealthy cities in the 21st century, most people don’t have to deal with food scarcity, but some people still do: most notably, the homeless. Sometimes avoiding hunger means doing something that’s against the law—stealing, for example.

In Italy, where Vittorio Di Sica’s acclaimed film The Bicycle Thief — about an unemployed man’s increasingly desperate attempts to provide for his family — made waves in 1948, a court overturned a theft conviction for a Ukrainian homeless man, Roman Ostriakov, who had stolen $4.50 worth of cheese and sausages from a Genoa grocery store, according to the BBC.

Ostriakov had been convicted of a 100-euro fine and half a year’s prison time, but a judge recognized the impossible choice that a hungry Ostriakov faced. According to an op-ed in La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, the court noted that “right to survival prevails over property.”

Another newspaper called the ruling “historic.” But despite seemingly unanimous support from the court and newspapers, it’s unclear whether the ruling will have a lasting impact.

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