Saturday - Sep 23, 2017

Coming From The Cold

Coming from the cold

“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)

Unable to keep a roof over their heads and incapable of acquiring access to shelters, food and laundry facilities, individuals and families who are sleeping rough on the streets have become outcasts of society, almost socially invisible to those who consider them to be second-class citizens; “bag” people as they are sometimes called. In fact, here in Athens, Greece, just like other major cities around the world, the plight of the growing homeless community continues to spiral out of control, remaining almost unnoticed by those whose responsibility it is to help them.

Coming from the coldFortunately, however, there are kind and compassionate people living here and abroad who do care, and large numbers of dedicated volunteers and members of organizations who 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.

And why not? Should we assume that people actually enjoy poverty and hunger? For those of us, who 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 felt by someone in this situation.

Coming from the coldTake “Elpida”, an elderly lady found lying face down in the back streets of Ommonia Square. Elpida was unkempt and bedraggled and she was actually 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.

Coming from the cold“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 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 and 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.

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 flat, 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.

Fortunately, we don’t need a reason to help people, we just need to 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 be out there 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.

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