‘The new poor’ in Athens’s neighborhoods

Piraeus, 2.30 p.m. At the weekly street market in the district of Kallipoli, the vendors have begun to close up their stands. In a few minutes, the street will be empty save for rotten tomatoes, crushed aubergines and spoiled fruit scattered about. Suddenly, as if by appointment, about a dozen people turn up and quietly begin picking up pieces of discarded fruit and vegetables. Men and women, aged by time and trials, choose from the «best of the bad lot.» Someone is looking through a garbage bin for food that has just been thrown away. Aghios Nikolaos, Kallithea, noon. A mother, with her 3-year-old boy, knocks on the door of the Center for Pastoral Care. From inside wafts the aroma of freshly cooked food. «What would you like today?» asks Mrs Voula, one of the two cooks. The women points to the dish of beans and hands over two plastic containers, one for herself and one for her son. By 2 p.m., more than 100 people will have crossed the threshold for a plate of hot food. Liosion Street, 7 p.m. The Athens Municipality’s mobile canteen has not yet opened but an impatient crowd is milling on the sidewalk. Immigrants from various countries stand about in groups talking. The Greeks stand alone, their eyes downcast. «Just look at what we’ve come to,» said one. «I’ve changed two buses just to get a meal.» Suddenly, the canteen employee calls out, «Come and get it!» Images of another, harsher Athens, that most of us have either never seen or else turned away from, averting our eyes. Nearly 1,000 people are fed daily by the city’s mobile canteens and another 3,000 by the Athens Archdiocese and other Church soup kitchens. Many more who can’t afford to buy a few tomatoes are reduced to looking through garbage. These are images that confirm official reports. In the European Commission’s latest report, Greece and Portugal were the EU member states with the highest poverty rates. Around 21 percent of Greeks live below the poverty line. After Italy, Greece has the largest percentage of long-term unemployed. In Greece, 5.5 percent of the working-age population has been unemployed for over 12 months, and 3 percent for more than two years. People getting their daily bread from the Church centers are not only the aged and infirm, but those with large families, single mothers, the unemployed, and carers for the disabled.

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