Crisis: Greece, people poorer with every passing day

More and more homeless seek shelter in hospitals

09 February, 14:31

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS, FEBRUARY 9 - Amid frantic attempts to save Greece from economic disaster, the impoverishment of Greek society continues to grow. Every day, thousands of people, who until a few months ago were free of financial problems, queue up for a bowl of soup or a sack of potatoes given out free by farmers, as was the case a few days ago in Athens and two days later in Salonika.

As if this weren't enough, plummeting temperatures have suddenly brought the focus on one of the harsh realities of the country's big cities: the homeless. The thousands of mainly Greek citizens, whose features have lost any last trace of hope for a better future, are victims of the memorandum imposed upon the country by Greece's international creditors, and every day fill the specially set up spaces in the capital and in other Greek cities in search of a warm place to spend the night. Hospitals in Athens are becoming hospices, as increasing numbers of homeless people are feigning illness in order to ensure a few nights of sleeping in warm surroundings and being fed.

"Unfortunately, public hospitals are becoming centres for the homeless," Tasos Antonopoulos, the chair of employees at the Laiko hospital, told the weekly Epikaira. "They pretend to have pains or heart problems so that they can be admitted to hospital and be sure of having a bed and some food for a few days. They only need to lie down on a folding bed, just for the time needed for clinical analysis. The American television channel CNN has also looked at the homeless problem in Greece, broadcasting a report from Athens entitled "The crisis is pushing Greeks on to the street". CNN says that the phenomenon concerns a new category of people, which is growing as a result of the serious economic situation. "The debt crisis in Greece has become a social crisis, and weak, suffering people, their faces sunken by hunger and poverty, can now be seen on every street corner in the capital," CNN says.

"The new homeless in Greece's frozen streets" was the headline of a report on the BBC. "Close to the glorious monuments of the Greek capital, hundreds of Greeks patiently wait in line in the dining room of the city's administration building. The centre where the homeless are fed, initially built for people with drug and alcohol addiction, has suddenly turned in to a centre for people suffering from poverty," the director of the centre, Dimitra Noussi, told the BBC.

An inquiry carried out by the weekly Epikaira found that these people are not suffering from psychiatric problems, or even from alcoholism or drug addiction. Instead, they are individuals who, until a short time ago, had homes and jobs and suddenly, with the arrival of the crisis, lost everything. Others, meanwhile, are small businesspeople or shopkeepers who have been declared bankruptcy. These are people with a medium to high cultural level, aged between 30 and 45. The study shows that some of the older individuals lost their jobs shortly before they were due to receive a pension.

But how many homeless people are there in Greece. The undersecretary at the Interior Ministry, Markos Bolaris, said during parliamentary questions that the exact number is unknown as many have not yet been registered. He did admit, though, that the problem has reached a worrying degree in recent months.

"Without the solidarity of Greek families, the problem would be even worse," Bolaris said. The NGO Climaca, meanwhile, says that there are now more than 20,000 homeless people throughout Greece. Half of them live in Athens, Anta Alamanou, the head of the NGO's homeless programme, told the website Zougla.gr. One thing, though, is for sure. Figures released by the authorities in Athens show that the number of homeless people who have asked for help from the city's centre has increased by 26% in one year (between October 2010 and October 2011).

The homeless problem is also serious other major cities around the country, and particularly in the north of Greece, where the closure of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and the high rate of unemployment mean that the newly poor and homeless are constantly rising. More than 2,500 homeless people live in Salonika, the majority of whom are over the age of 50, while there are also a number of young mothers. (ANSAmed).

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