Photographers' Blog

Homeless in Greece

June 6, 2013

Athens, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

Marialena’s tears ran down her face onto the dirty mattress where she and her boyfriend Dimitrios have been sleeping day in, day out, for over a year, under a bridge in one of Athens’ most run-down neighborhoods.

Marialena, 42, is a homeless AIDS patient and a former drug addict on a Methadone rehab program.

Athens is full of sad stories like hers – of once ordinary people with a job and family who have found themselves on the fringes of society after the country’s economic crisis began in 2009. Up until a few years ago, homelessness was relatively unusual in this country of close family ties, but nowadays stories like Marialena’s are increasingly common.

As Dimitrios tries – without any gloves – to clean the bleeding gashes on her arm, a rat makes its way behind their mattress.

Dimitrios, 51 – who is divorced with a 21-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son – became homeless three years ago when he lost his job as a dancer in a Greek folk-dancing troupe.

“I want to die, this is not life – it’s a nightmare,”. “I’m gonna get sick and die,” Marialena cried out as her greenish-blue eyes filled with tears.

Michael, a 36-year-old man from the Greek island of Rhodes, sat on a plastic chair nearby, in the little area that they all call home.

Michael was a receptionist at a hotel that went bankrupt in late 2011. He couldn’t find a job and after a few months became homeless. Two months later, he was diagnosed with cancer in his thyroid and lymph nodes. Michael usually lives on the steps of a Greek Orthodox Church but he spends time “under the bridge” with his other homeless friends.

One mattress down is Giorgos, a 50-year-old man from Athens who was forced to shut his billiards club several years ago, spent time in prison for not paying his social security debts, and now takes medication for depression.

Next to him is Vassilis, 35, who has been homeless for over seven years and works odd jobs for small tips. He has spent time in mental institutions on several occasions.

In a square nearby is Stephanos, 42, a soft-spoken man who worked for over 10 years in a well-known men’s clothing shop in central Athens. The shop closed on October 12, 2012 and a few months later when Stephanos could not pay his rent, he found shelter along with other homeless and drug addicts in a square in central Athens.

Dimitrios is like a father figure for his girlfriend Marialena and the few others who live under the bridge. “I feel responsible for all those lost souls,” he says as he rearranges the plastic chairs there.

“I had many dreams,” said Marialena. “I wanted to become a dancer or a doctor – the only dream I have now is to survive the day and eventually find a home.”

The numbers paint a tragic picture of homelessness rising rapidly in Greece as it struggles through its most troubled period since World War II.

Since the debt crisis erupted in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs or businesses and the unemployment rate touched a record 27 percent in February this year, compared to just 9 percent in February 2009. According to a 2009 ministry of health and welfare we had 7,720 homeless in Greece, according to estimates by NGO Klimaka we now have over 20,000.

EU data shows that Greece has the highest jobless rate across the 27-nation bloc. The Greek statistics agency estimates that since the start of the crisis, 700-1,000 Greeks have been losing their jobs daily. Of an estimated 1.3 million unemployed Greeks, some 225,000 are receiving handouts from the state.

NGOs like Klimaka and Praxis, as well as the Red Cross, the Athens municipality and the Church of Greece are all helping by offering food, clothing and shoes as well as washing facilities and shelter in some cases.

But those are never enough to deal with the rising numbers: homeless people, some of them old and sick, are a common sight everywhere in Athens. According to a study by Klimaka, six out of 10 homeless people lost their home in the past two years. Forty-seven percent of them have children.

In 2011, 3.4 million people in Greece were living at risk of poverty and social exclusion, a Eurostat report said. That translates to 31 percent of the population, up from 27.7 percent in 2010.

Over 15 percent of Greeks were unable to cover their basic needs in 2011, Eurostat said – or nearly double the EU average of 8.8 percent. This group includes people who cannot afford the following: rent or paying off debt; heating; unexpected expenses; a meal of meat or fish every two days; a week-long holiday away from home; a car; a washing machine; a color television and a telephone.

After writing this blog I found myself wondering, what has happened to my country? What is wrong with this world?

(Corrected June 10 to reflect official homeless figures)

Comments
14 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Amazing work!

Posted by elisav | Report as abusive
 

I am crying. Crying for Greece, this beautiful country…we have to do something. I just don’t know what??

Posted by Serendipity11 | Report as abusive
 

But those are never enough to deal with the rising numbers: homeless people, some of them old and sick, are a common sight everywhere in Athens. According to a study by Klimaka, six out of 10 homeless people lost their home in the past two years. Forty-seven percent of them have children.

In 2011, 3.4 million people in Greece were living at risk of poverty and social exclusion, a Eurostat report said. That translates to 31 percent of the population, up from 27.7 percent in 2010.

Posted by Sulifun | Report as abusive
 

To the author: what’s happened can be revealed in a simple way. In the article it’s said ‘a meal of meat or fish every two days; a week-long holiday away from home; a car; a washing machine; a color television and a telephone’ are part of the definition of ‘basic needs’. Well, I’m afraid most people in China and India work much harder than the usual Greeks and dare not dream of such luxury. Can I suggest that too many greeks overspent too much for too long time?

Posted by Zhiyu | Report as abusive
 

I suppose this is the closest Reuters will ever get to reporting what is happening on the streets.

Posted by diddums | Report as abusive
 

In the mean time the IMF apologizes for making mistakes in Greece during the crisis handling.

What does the IMF do, to rectify their “mistakes” and dumping millions in poverty?

Will the IMF assist Greece now? maybe they can give a bit of that caviar that they consume during their “meetings”.

Posted by Willvp | Report as abusive
 

Greece was the most distasteful country I ever visited. Every cab took the long route, every restaurant bill was padded, and you never received the correct change. As the writer above mentioned, they lived above their means and expect someone else to pay the tab.

Posted by Ashdodi | Report as abusive
 

Phenomenal photos make their point.
There may be a need for some Gandhian economics: do not import till you have enough money through exports. Basically, it means “buy local”, letting everyone participate in producing local goods. Otherwise, this could be you. The problem is that those who have not yet lost their jobs have a pidgeon mentality and think that it cannot happen to them.
Of course, local goods may not exist anymore. Old industries may have been entirely wiped out. So, there is need to start afresh.
In much of the world there are experiments with alternative money. Greece seems to be a case where this is becoming necessary.

Posted by ArvindAshta | Report as abusive
 

Why blame the IMF?
Grecians have a culture that has long been proud of tax evasion. They are being rewarded for their arrogant foolishness.
The One Percenters Plutocracy everywhere has a culture of legalized tax avoidance that would be illegal tax evasion for the 99%, especially in the United States where people like Magical Myth are proud of their “carried interest” and accounts in foreign banks not subject to American taxes.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

“spent time in prison for his social security debts”

maybe the guy was not paying his part of social security for his employees? it’s common in Greece to owe the social security funds when you’re an employer, because they were not very forceful in making you pay

Posted by birbilis | Report as abusive
 

For you who so blatantly condemn an entire nation for what you have experienced in Greece,(ashodi, specifically), let me say that I have traveled the world extensively and have found similar experiences everywhere I have traveled to, including the UK and US, but have seen beyond that to find beauty and wonderful memories of everywhere I have been. I also know that very often, we receive back the treatment that we give, as I have often found myself apologizing for rude, condescending visitors in different countries I have visited. I must add that the majority of these ‘rude’ visitors have been Anglophones.

Please note, by the way, that the people referred to in this article were simple working people who probably never saw more than a 4 figure income. These are hardly the people that led a country to ruin. This is a case, as in most of the countries around the world, as I do not like to generalize, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And of course, the poor pay the piper.

I am one of those simple people who found themselves unemployed and had to leave my country for work elsewhere. I am currently in a country with what a westerner would call, deplorable conditions. However, I have adapted to and accepted this way of life and find myself to be loved by the locals and thankful to my hosts for providing me with a job when my own country did not. The recession is world-wide. Do not blame one country or one people for what is happening within.

Posted by mmvp | Report as abusive
 

It never ceases to amaze me how people can pass comment on a country they have never lived in and judge those who are clearly living through hell due to the corruption that governed them for so long. Where is the compassion in this world? I hope that we all remain lucky enough never to be in such a devastating situation and to never lose our families because of it.

Posted by afost | Report as abusive
 

This is really a painful cite when good meaning citizens become jobless and eventually become homeless. They should find a way to enter other countries where they can have a fighting chance. I pray for quick recovery of Greece.

Posted by Ziaur | Report as abusive
 

The world is full of kings and queens, who blind your eyes and steal your dreams. Who speaks for these people? Who represents their interests? This what the Global Elite want, a population forced to work in their private companies as wage slaves while they use “economies of scale” to outcompete any independent business entrepreneurs who do not join them. See the evidence around you.

Pios milaei giaftous; Etsi thelouv olo ton Kosmo oi Elit. Look @ 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKJo8S8l hyc&feature=youtu.be 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slanahLc IHY

Posted by SavetheAngels | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  • Editors & Key Contributors