Hidden between cardboard boxes, wrapped in dirty blankets, numb and nearly frozen from the cold in recent days are the homeless people, who sleep in the streets of Athens. Low temperatures and cold winds have made many of them turn to the municipality that has provided sports halls and other premises where they can spend the nights. However, others preferred to remain in the street. Fear that someone else will take their place the next day if they leave it even for a night makes them stay there despite the cold.
We have found them there today. Lying under the sun that shone for a while or bending in two with their signs reading, "I am sick. I need medications." A drug addict was lying without being able to react, and even less able to thank a woman who left him warm clothes and socks. Another one had left his "furniture" on the sidewalk, apparently trying to find something to eat.
For several days, the message of one of the most active non-governmental organizations in the Greek capital Atenistas has been spreading in social media. It is urging citizens to help the homeless and bring winter clothes, blankets and food to the offices of the non-governmental organizations helping them. "Whoever finds homeless people who need help can call the municipal shelter or show them how to get to the Rouf gym, at the corner of Piraeus and Petrou Rally streets."
But how easy is it to convince these people to leave their place and go in a hall that will be available to them for a few days?
For Dimitris, who lives in one of the oldest Athenian neighbourhoods Metaxourgeio, this could turn into a beating. Here is his story.
"Many homeless people live very close to my house, about a hundred metres away from it. They sleep in the street - in cardboard boxes, wrapped in old blankets. Only two or three from a total of forty people are Greeks and they live in the old building of the National Insurance Institute. Last night I saw that people from non-governmental organizations came and gave clothes and blankets to them. The majority of the homeless people, however, are from very distant countries. There are Mongols, Uzbeks, people of the Maghreb countries, many Afghans. All are drug addicts.
Last night, I went to tell them that they could go to the gym down the street to spend the night there. What I want to emphasize is that it is almost impossible to explain anything to them, because most of them speak only their own language. Furthermore, these people do not want anything. They want to live where they are, because Africans come and sell them the various types of drugs they need. "
Dimitris said that the pedestrian street Yasonos is filled with such people and he defines it as "a foundry of human souls."
"They spend the night there however they can and do not want to move. And when you go and tell them to move somewhere they respond in a very aggressive manner. "
He said the homeless in the streets of Athens are not all in the same category. "Not all of those in the streets are in the group of the so-called "new" homeless people - victims of the crisis. These people were there before but Greek society simply did not want to see them. There are many abandoned houses in the neighbourhood and these people lived in them. They are not here for two reasons. The first one is that there was a serious public health threat. Living there, homeless people turned the abandoned houses in small dumps, filled with waste, excrements, etc. They came from the sanitary service at some point and obliged many of the owners to lock their houses and seal the doors and windows. Another reason is the influx of foreigners."
There were not so many homeless people in Metaksurgio last year. "As we know from official sources, 300 people a day illegally entered the country last year. Some of them have relatives who shelter them, while others have none. Even their compatriots have spurned the people living in the street. Who would like to admit a drug addict to his home?"
He said illegal immigration and living in the street are interrelated. "This is a very serious problem and it cannot be resolved simply by calls of going out to the street and giving clothes and blankets to them. Going to them alone is risky. Last night they would almost beat me and I only tried to tell them to go to some warm place. I tried to tell it to them in English, and then in Russian, but nothing happened.
The proper thing for me is to submit the things we can give to the municipality or any of the non-governmental organizations - yes, that makes sense. They have established structures; they know how to contact them. I think these things can be done only in an organized manner. For example, some abandoned buildings can be provided for free to non-governmental organizations, people can help with painting, free electricity and water can be supplied and these facilities can operate under their supervision. Everything else is words of activism in social media," he said.