A night of solidarity with the homeless

The night the non-governmental humanitarian organization Klimaka invited Athenians to stay overnight in Klafthmonos Square with the city’s homeless was one of the mildest in recent weeks. The organizers reassured us the timing was not deliberate. «We decided on the date two months ago – we had no idea the weather would be so mild,» said psychologist Diamantoula Vlantoni, a member of Klimaka. Compared to Britain, where 580,000 people are estimated to be homeless, the scale of the problem is comparatively small in Greece. Ada Alamanou, in charge of public relations for the group, told us that in Greece an estimated 11,000 to 15,000 people were without any fixed abode, about 9,000 of those in Athens. «However we cannot be sure of the figures, since there is no official register,» she added. The burden falls on various philanthropic and non-governmental organizations which do what they can with the limited funds available to bring people’s attention to the problem. The evening began at about 8 p.m. as a heterogeneous group of homeless, the curious and the usual freebie seekers there for the coffee, as well as municipal councilors and party officials, such as PASOK’s Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou and Alexis Tsipras of Synaspismos Left Coalition, began to gather around the booth set up by Klimaka. One of the organizers asked a plainly dressed man if he was homeless and received the aggrieved reply, «Of course not.» We struck up a conversation with Costas, a drug addict and former convict. «I was sleeping in an abandoned car, but they hauled it away. I’ve come here to see if I can get a blanket,» he said. Nearby, a young man who says his name is Alexia, told us his own sad tale of how his family could not accept him for what he was and so he went out on the streets at the age of 10. «Rough-sleeping solidarity» is an idea that has been around for some time in Europe, according to Vlantoni. «We have no illusions. We don’t expect many people to come here to sleep tonight. The point is to make people aware and to show support for those who sleep out in the open,» she said. It might have been a calm evening but it was February and after about three hours I began to think that my solidarity and journalistic pride had their limits. But when I passed by again after midnight, I saw quite a large crowd lying down around the booth in the square and small groups of people standing around talking. The initiative seems to have been a success. Let us hope it won’t be an isolated effort. (1) This article first appeared in the February 26 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement. Photos are by Dimitris Michalakis.