New initiative offers support and a helping hand

People who have lost their health insurance and are in urgent need of a doctor, who are struggling with debt and seeking legal advice or who have been unsuccessfully looking for work for months will soon have somewhere to turn to for help. Solidarity Net, a support center partly funded by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, is opening a support and advice center in the 100-year-old building on the corner of Domokou and Philadelphias streets across the road from the Larissis train station in central Athens, home also to a municipal citizens’ support center. The space, which covers an area of 750 square meters, accommodates five separate areas to be operated by four well-established nongovernmental organizations under one shared roof.

“We want to put anyone who crosses our threshold at ease,” explained Dominiki Zaralidou, the head of the Athens Solidarity Center, as we toured the premises. The aim of the center’s aesthetics and design, she said, is to help those who are reluctant to seek help to overcome their inhibitions.

NGO Praksis will offer primary healthcare in three offices that will be alternately served by a cardiologist, psychiatrist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist and orthopedist. Consultations will be arranged by appointment only so as to prevent long lines and anxiety. Patients seeking consultations with other doctors will be directed to Praksis’s polyclinics and volunteer doctors at their private clinics or hospitals.

Arsi will provide four full-time lawyers to offer legal advice at the new solidarity center and also represent clients in court when their cases pertain to immigration, labor, bankruptcy or tax issues.

The third area of support, which will also be run by Praksis, is aimed at helping with employment. Two employment consultants and a social worker will treat each case individually, while they will also create an electronic platform where unemployed people can create a profile listing their qualifications and connect to the labor market.

The Mazi gia to Paidi (Together for Children) welfare program will also be operating at the center, providing support to parents and educators with four psychologists and a social worker. The group also operates a help line on 11525.

“A recent study conducted in the neighborhood concluded that there may be as many as 3,000 single mothers living in the area,” said Elli Xenou, head of programming and donations at Solidarity Now, another NGO involved in the initiative.

The center will also be equipped with a computer room for people who do not have Internet access, as well as a play area for children, who will be overseen by specially trained staff.

“This will allow their parents to get the services they need without distractions,” explained Xenou. “This particular initiative belongs to the Network of Children’s Rights, which offers supplementary tuition, Greek classes, creative activities, introductory computer classes and excursions for children aged 6 to 12.”

The Athens Solidarity Center will initially be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the plan is to keep it open longer once it starts operating more smoothly in order to accommodate more families. It is due to open at the end of the month, though an exact inauguration date has not been announced.

“We want the center to become a point of reference for the entire city and for those who live elsewhere and can reach us by train,” said Xenou. “Our door will always be open to everyone.”