NEWS

Homeless figures up as crisis bites

The impact of the financial crisis has resulted in thousands more people becoming homeless in Greece, chiefly in Athens, where an estimated 9,000 people have no fixed abode. According to figures made public by the European Observatory on Homelessness, the number of homeless people now exceeds 20,000, compared to 17,000 a year ago. A breakdown of the 2007 figures referred to around 1,000 sleeping rough on an almost permanent basis, 2,000 residing at hostels run by the Orthodox Church or nongovernment organizations, another 2,000 living in abandoned houses while some 8,000 are described as asylum-seeking foreigners. There are fears that many more homeless are not accounted for in these statistics. «Of course, not all homeless people, particularly youngsters, are registered as such,» Vassiliki Tzanakou of the NGO Homeless Support told Kathimerini. «These are the invisible homeless people who have not quite hit rock bottom but do not have far to go,» she added. According to Tzanakou, many of these people are on the street because they have fallen into excessive debt or have had their homes repossessed as they have been unable to keep up with mortgage payments as the financial crisis bites. Experts say that although immigrants account for a large proportion of homeless people, an increasing number of Greeks are joining their ranks. Many of the young and old homeless people on the streets are believed to have suffered family problems, while others claim not to have any family at all. Some are believed to have mental problems. In a bid to help the homeless as temperatures plunge over the next few days, volunteers from Homeless Support are to meet at the entrance to Athens University at 10 a.m. on Sunday with sleeping bags and blankets and spend the day distributing them to people sleeping rough. «We will seek out the homeless people ourselves to avoid the possibility of people who don’t really need help taking the bedding,» Tzanakou said.