Queues for the hungry

Argyris Touloupis, which he later told us was his name, doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the group that gathered outside the Town Hall at 22 Liosion St on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Well-dressed and presentable, he waits in the queue every day for the municipal meals-on-wheels. On that particular day, the menu was baked potatoes and a slice of bread. «It isn’t worth the price of the bus ticket for me to come here,» he said. «But what else can I do?» A mathematician with a postgraduate degree, he took a «wrong turn» somewhere along the line and has now been unemployed for years. «I was working at the Education Ministry when I got an offer from the Public Power Corporation because I had postgraduate training. They promised me permanent tenure, so I accepted the offer. Four years later they fired me,» he said. A serious illness he contracted after that put him on the unemployment lists. Touloupis is one of the few Greeks who come to eat at the municipal canteen. «A lot of people are too ashamed to go to their local parish so they come here where no one knows them,» he said. Everyone has his or her own story. Christos has come to Athens from Corfu for medical tests. He has been battling cancer for years. «I might come for two days of tests and they keep me for a month. I can’t make ends meet, so I come here to eat. Sometimes I eat in a taverna, but then I have to sleep on a park bench. And one should be thankful for that, all the same. If your stomach is full, you don’t have to steal,» he said, smiling. Most are immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia and Palestine. They sit around in the street, polishing off their meal. «I was working somewhere, but they sacked me after a month,» said one man in broken Greek. «Most of the people you see here have university degrees,» says Mohammed, a 30-year-old immigrant from Iraq. Complaints are heard about the pecking order. «Greeks get served first,» is one comment. Every day, municipal workers serve over 350 meals at this point and another 300 at noon outside the Serafeio swimming pool on the corner of Pireos Street and Iera Odos. According to Katerina Katsabe-Marneri, who is a doctor and a municipal counselor, the cost of the food program and hotel rooms for the homeless amounts to 1.2 million euros a year. «It is not enough,» she told Kathimerini. «Over the past two years, the number of people lining up for food has increased by 30 percent. We need a network of services for the homeless and poor, with the participation of all agencies and non-governmental organizations. Many of these people are not even aware of what they are entitled to from the municipality and the State in terms of medical care, legal aid and so on,» she said, adding that the public also needs to be made aware of the problem. «People who live around the Town Hall say the mobile canteen pollutes the area, that there are fights and so on. That might be true, but they have to understand that it is no solution just to move it out of one neighborhood into another.»

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