A young man is sitting in the corner of the Klimaka hostel, rocking himself against his knees in a slow repetitive rhythm. In the hostel’s office a woman resident is being treated, having just been assaulted by him.
A vine grows above the yellow painted walls and green woodwork where men and women gather. They are the homeless people of Athens. Sitting among them are Petros Papadopolous and Leonidas Samios, but the stories of these two men are very different from many of the other residents. Rough sleepers who have found a bed, they are neither habitual drug users nor suffering from mental illness, unlike most of those who use the hostel.
Papadopolous and Samios are ordinary working men who have been undone by Greece’s financial crisis in a country where, according to official data, unemployment is expected to climb to between 17% and 18% by the end of 2011, a figure that in reality could be as much as 5% higher. And in a country with some of the weakest social provision in Europe, whose government is pushing through a stringent austerity programme, the consequence has been the creation of a new poor, some of whom have been forced on to the streets. While the two men are happy to be photographed, the names they supply are not their own. Both are too ashamed to let their families know they are homeless.
They represent what social workers in Greece have described as an “unprecedented” surge in homelessness.