According to the non-governmental organisation, Klimaka, there are approximately 20,000 homeless people in Athens. Then why, I ask, has Greece
made use of less than half of EU subsidies destined for food programs for the poor last year
In real terms, it means that only around 10 million euros out of over 20 million euros was used. These funds were specifically destined for food programs to feed people. This also means that funds for the next year are likely to be cut drastically (to around 4.8 million euros) at a time when the numbers of homeless and poverty striken people are rising rapidly. Homelessness has risen by 25% since last year.
It never ceases to shock and astound me that the Greek government can be so irresponsible and callous in not using or “losing” EU money that is meant to help its most vulnerable people.
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.
The City of Athens yesterday announced it would be inaugurating a new shelter for the homeless on Monday at 6 p.m. The Hotel for the Homeless, as the establishment has been named, is located in a building bequeathed by a Greek in Istanbul, Lena Pantelidou, to the City of Athens Homeless Foundation. It has a capacity of 60 beds in single and double rooms, private bathroom facilities and medical and psychological support staff.