Greece’s harsh austerity measures and the subsequent rise in unemployment have forced a growing number of Greeks out of their homes. Our reporters went to a crisis centre in the capital, where desperate Athenians seek refuge, food and medication.
Two years into Greece’s devastating financial crisis, joblessness and homelessness are rife. For the first time, the middle class is having trouble making ends meet. More and more Greeks are finding themselves out of work, unable to pay their way, sleeping in their cars or even on the streets.
Resembling a youth centre or backpackers hostel, the independent Klimaka homeless centre is a rarity in Greece, where most non-state assistance is dominated by the church. Funded entirely by donations, even down to the soap and televisions, the centre is today busier than ever. People who have spent their adult lives employed and self-sufficient are now seeking refuge, food, and medication.
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“We see totally healthy people, with an active working past, sleeping rough,” Efi Stamatoyiannopoulou, a nurse at the centre, told our reporters. Not only individuals but also families, she says, are turning up at the centre in need of food and essentials. In the last month alone demand has increased by around 20 per cent.
Lambros, an unemployed builder who managed to get a bed at the centre, has been homeless since February. He spent six months sleeping in his car before finding refuge at Klimaka. “I have no reason to complain,” he said. “They take good care of me.” But while Lambros is relieved to be getting help, he is also deeply ashamed of his situation. “I don’t want my family to know where I am now, at such a low point in life. I was another person when they saw me and now I’m ashamed to even look at myself.”
The crisis has not only caused a rise in homelessness, but also in depression. According to a recent survey, 54 per cent of Greeks now say they regularly feel depressed. A state-funded suicide-prevention helpline reported in October that more than twice as many people called this year than in 2010, and one in four of them mentioned the financial crisis.
At the Klimaka centre, a team of nurses, psychologists and social workers welcome a stream of troubled Athenians each day. When our reporters visited, more than 50 people had already turned up before noon.
George Barkouris, a 60-year-old unemployed radio technician who comes to the centre for psychological support, says he has experienced “huge distress” and suicidal thoughts since losing his job in public radio after 20 years of service. “At my age it’s difficult to find a job in anything,” he explained.
For the country as a whole, Barkouris is far from optimistic. “Greece?” he asked, looking up to the ceiling. “God help us.”
Date created : 2011-10-07