Journalist and editor Lorraine Eyre runs the “Homeless but not Hopeless” charity. In a piece written for GreekTV, Lorraine reflects on the misguided attitudes about the homeless community in the country, the reasons many find themselves on the streets, and offers vignettes of individual stories.
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and not cared for is the greatest poverty.” (Mother Teresa)
The plight of the growing homeless community continues to spiral out of control
Individuals and families who are sleeping rough on the streets of Athens without access to shelter, food, and laundry facilities have become outcasts of society. Sometimes referred to as “bag” people, they are almost socially invisible to those who consider them to be second-class citizens. The plight of the growing homeless community in the city continues to spiral out of control. The situation sadly remains unnoticed by those whose responsibility it is to help them.
Fortunately, however, there are kind and compassionate people living here in Greece and abroad who do care. Large numbers of dedicated volunteers and members of organizations are fiercely committed to providing help and offering their support. Those volunteers who have come face to face with the harsh realities out on the streets and have listened to heart-wrenching stories, many from families with young children, have realized that everyone is important in this world and commands the same respect.
Sometimes referred to as “bag” people, they are almost socially invisible
And why not? Should we assume that people actually enjoy poverty and hunger? Most of us have never been forced to sleep in a public place, a foul-smelling doorway or under an old dirty cardboard box, stranded with only a few possessions because there’s no place to store them. We should take a minute to reflect on the revulsion.
Take “Elpida”, an elderly lady found lying face down in the back streets of Ommonia Square. Elpida was unkempt and bedraggled, eating and sharing food with a stray dog from a greasy piece of paper on the ground. Obviously mentally disturbed and in need of hospitalization, an ambulance was called, but I was warned straight off that she could not be made to stay in hospital against her will and would probably wander off under her own free will.
Mental Illness, a reason for having to live on the streets
“Spyros”, an old timer, fondly recognized by Athenians for having spent around thirty years living in his favorite spot by the city metro station used to be a lawyer. On reaching middle-age, he lost his job and got a divorce. He then decided to leave his property to his ex-wife and children to make sure they would have some security. He moved out, not letting them know his whereabouts, and has been homeless ever since. With no job, he couldn’t rent an apartment for himself. With no apartment, he couldn’t get a job. Today, he will tell you that he has gotten used to street life and can’t remember things any differently. On the times I’ve visited him with warm clothes in the winter, he tells me to not give him too much, but to save items for the young ones.
Unemployment, a reason for having to live on the streets.
The shelters are too overcrowded and not suitable for a family with four children
Then there is the “Maintas” family, living under a bridge next to a busy highway. Like many homeless families, they have moved from shelter to shelter and received food and clothing from local churches. However, now they have made their home under the bridge because they say, the shelters are too overcrowded and not suitable for a family with four children. Only a few months ago, they were living in a comfortable ground floor apartment, but were evicted because they had gotten behind with the rent.
High cost of living, a reason for having to live on the streets.
Finally, we come to “Johnny”, a young musician, who may or may not have an alcohol or drug related problem. Lost on the streets, even though he has friends looking for him to take care of his health and to help him get his life back on track. Who are we to judge why people have ended up living on the streets?
Wrong Choices, a reason for having to live on the streets.
It is unnecessary to find justifications to help the homeless in our city. We need to simply take the initiative to encourage authorities to stamp out homelessness, and give the homeless a chance to stand on their feet with dignity. Volunteers can reach out to those in need, letting individuals know that they are indeed wanted, loved, and are most definitely cared about.
We can’t magically find them all homes, and we don’t have all the answers, but we can provide them with help and thoughtfulness to make their lives a little easier out on the streets.