OPINION

Down and out, but still very human

There exists in our minds a sort of ideal or typical tramp – a repulsive, rather dangerous creature, who would die rather than work or wash, and wants nothing but to beg, drink, and rob henhouses… A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so… I am not saying, of course, that most tramps are ideal characters; I am only saying that they are ordinary human beings, and that if they are worse than other people it is the result and not the cause of their way of life… a conscience-ridden race, with a strong sense of the sinfulness of poverty,» writes George Orwell in his quasi-autobiographical «Down and Out in Paris and London» (1933). Decades on, the homeless people of Paris or London are no different from their counterparts in Athens. The alcohol-ravaged face, the signs of destitution and desperation, the near-hedonistic surrender to the slow passage of time. The feeling that you can lie down, sleep, eat, spend time anywhere you can find; that you can create a world around you out of nothing. Or, on the contrary, the feeling of the perennial misfit. Up from only a handful a few decades ago in Greece, a country of closely knit families, the homeless now number in the thousands. Up from 10 or 20 in the 1970s, there were some 500 in 1995 and more than 11,000 today. Greeks and foreigners, men and women, ex-prisoners, drug addicts, jobless, financial wrecks, just ordinary people who once used to lead an ordinary life, foreign migrants who failed to build a new life – they all squeeze inside abandoned homes, shops, cars, in parks, on benches, in shopping arcades, cardboard boxes, freezing with cold. From the freedom of zero obligations, from the idle pleasure of total disconnection, from the mores of daily life (they do not feel any responsibility or stress for anything, they are not afraid of being deprived of their wealth or job, they are not worried about property for they don’t have any), tramps gradually acquire the fear that they may not make it to the next day, the fear of being beaten up, of falling sick, of being murdered, of getting lost in the darkness of alcohol or drugs – forever. The tramp’s life is a violent, volatile life. It’s the lack of protection against the uncertainties. It’s the hatred, the anger, the hardness, the insolence, the cynicism of desperation, the punches and kicks from the competition. The poor have no culture of solidarity. They have a strong defensive or aggressive egotism (like the two homeless in Glyfada who beat their so-called intruder to death). They don’t like company – but they tend to depend on one another (fellow tramps trade curses and kicks but never part ways). The feeling of guilt for their social uselessness and the extensive deprivation impact on their soul. So sometimes, along with their property and decency, they also lose their mind. Just for a moment or, perhaps, forever.