Doctors of the World in cooperation with the Municipality of Athens, who provided the space, and other non-governmental organizations, opened a night shelter for homeless people, providing beds, a warm bath and a place for them to wash their clothes. It is a place where the homeless can feel safe. The project was funded by the European Social Fund.
Greek newspaper Ethnos published an article after journalist Marina Ziozou was hosted in the shelter for one night and was able to speak with some of the homeless people who live there, the majority of which are Greeks.
Ziozou spoke with 53-year-old Maria, 63-year-old Yiorgos, and other shelter residents who had been left homeless due to unpaid loans or laid off from their jobs.
After listening to their personal stories, how their lives had changed from one moment to the other, ending up living on the streets and sleeping on the sidewalk, it is easy to realize that just one tiny moment can change a person’s whole life. The experiences of these people affect us all, because we could end up in the same situation in a heartbeat.
The number of unemployed people rises along with the number of homeless people, who at the moment are more than 40,000. They are people who used to live on a decent income but are now trapped in a dead-end situation.
Maria Isaakidou, 53, used to work in a hotel, but when the crisis first hit Greece, the business was forced to shut down. Then she used to take care of an old man in order to have enough money to pay the bills. However, when that man passed away, she couldn’t afford to pay her bills and was left homeless. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, she survived for almost six months. Since then, she has been living in the shelter.
“I want to show the world the efforts of the people who work at the shelter. I want to thank the Doctors of the World, who have embraced us and are taking care of us.”
Maria is now looking for a job but most employers prefer to hire younger girls. “I am not elderly. I want to live with dignity,” she said.
Dimitris used to work in a research firm for many years. However, when the company let him go, he was forced to live on the streets. “When I lost my job, I lost everything I had worked for all those years. House, money, relatives, friends. At first, some of my friends took me in, but in the end I found refuge at the airport. At least there, I knew I was safe. This is temporary, I am looking for a job every day,” said the man who is determined not to give up.
Yiorgos, 62, was working in a travel agency until two years ago. He used to have his own travel agency but he shut it down because of the financial crisis.
Even though he has been homeless for two years, he has not given up yet and has not lost his sense of humor. “The rent, the bills, all the basic necessities were hard for me to cover. My first day on the streets was a nightmare. I did not sleep at all. I could not believe that something like that had happened to me. Yet, what we believe can’t touch us, turns out to be closer than we thought. However, I accept my life as it is,” he said.
According to Artemis Lianos, volunteer with Doctors of the World and head of the homeless shelter in Athens, “the issue of homeless people concerns us all. On one hand, we must fight for the effective implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to housing, and on the other hand, we need to consider that tomorrow we may be homeless as well…”