Greece’s homeless population rocketed within a year to 17,000, almost half of whom live in Athens, experts told Kathimerini yesterday. Figures from the European Observatory on Homelessness (EOH) show that there were some 10,000 homeless people in Greece in 2002. By 2003 that figure had shot up by 70 percent, researchers found. The statistics show a major shift in a country where the sight of someone sleeping on a city street was virtually non-existent until the late 1980s. Some 8,000 people without a home were found in the capital, according to the EOH statistics and, the report’s authors said, things could have been worse. «The numbers don’t include those who live in dangerous buildings. It is notable that about 140,000 Greeks and 85,000 immigrants are living in Athens below the poverty line in rented homes with substandard living conditions,» said Aristides Sapounakis and Vassilis Arapoglou. The definition of a homeless person in Greece is someone who does not own or rent a home and lives on the streets, in hostels, institutions, dilapidated buildings or with friends and family. Of the 17,000 recorded as homeless last year, only 1,000 people were sleeping rough. The rest were staying in hostels, institutions, asylums or refugee camps. Some 8,000 of the homeless in Greece last year were immigrants, while 2,000 were squatters. «The Greek family is fairly close-knit and protects its members,» said Katerina Katsabe, an adviser on homelessness for the Municipality of Athens. «However, in the last decade the number of homeless people has risen due to the presence of immigrants, higher unemployment and even the  earthquake.» About a third of homeless people suffer from some kind of mental illness, and a large percentage have chronic health ailments such as heart disease or cancer, Katsabe added. The municipality is looking for a new building from which to provide services for the homeless. Its suggestions so far have been scuttled by local residents. Greece’s homeless figures still remain lower than similar-sized countries such as Austria, which has a homeless population of 24,500. In Britain there are 350,000 homeless people.