Keeping Athens clean is an uphill battle

In Amerikis Square, central Athens, residents are beginning to feel that the area’s downward spiral has spun way out of control, as more and more drug users, homeless people and desperate migrants take up residence in the neighborhood’s abandoned buildings. Pedestrians have to negotiate broken bottles, used syringes and piles of garbage, and there are hundreds of similar human dumpsites all over that part of the Greek capital.

The City of Athens has been inundated with complaints from residents on Telestou Street, just off the busy Acharnon thoroughfare. Even employees working at the City?s Friendship Club can?t wait to get transferred as their headquarters sit among five abandoned buildings, three of which are being used as squats.

Residents glimpsed a small sign of hope earlier this month, when workers from the City of Athens Sanitation Department arrived to clear rubbish and debris from a particularly noxious site on the corner of Efesou and Telestou streets, a building that belongs to a man who lives in America and has not tended to his property for years, allowing it to be overrun by drug users.

The problem of squats is especially pronounced in central parts of Athens to the northeast of Omonia Square, but help is on the way, according to Athens Deputy Mayor Andreas Varelas, who is in charge of sanitation. «Our goal is to clean up 52 similar sites within the year,» he says. «This means one operation a week.”

The newly appointed deputy, however, knows that he is facing an uphill battle and that the issue of maintenance is one that will need to be addressed soon. ?We had garbage trucks and street-cleaning trucks go to town on Kotzia Square [in front of City Hall], but within two hours the area was filthy again,? says Varelas, who admits that it took him some time to grasp the magnitude of the problem after actively assuming his duties at the beginning of this month.

To help tidy up the image of the capital city, Varelas has also had to shake things up within his department, putting back to work employees who belong to the Sanitation Department but had been «temporarily» transferred to other services.

A decision based on an internal investigation as to whether these transfers were legal or not is expected soon.

Meanwhile, the City of Athens Sanitation Department is also awaiting rulings in the cases of a number of contract workers who have taken the state to court over the nonrenewal of their contracts.

In great news for pedestrians, however, Varelas said that the municipal authorities would be putting to use a special machine for cleaning sidewalks of pesky wads of chewing gum.