Saturday, February 18, 2012

The New Poor In Greece

Spiegel Online has an article about the impact of the financial crises on the middle-class, and the new poor.
Athens has always had a problem with homelessness, like any other major city. But the financial and debt crises have led poverty to slowly but surely grow out of control here. In 2011, there were 20 percent more registered homeless people than the year before. Depending on the season, that number can be as high as 25,000. The soup kitchens in Athens are complaining of record demand, with 15 percent more people in need of free meals.

It's no longer just the "regulars" who are brought blankets and hot meals at night, says Effie Stamatogiannopoulou. She sits in the main offices of Klimaka, brooding over budgets and duty rosters. It was a long day, and like most of those in the over-heated room, the 46-year-old is keeping herself awake with coffee and cigarettes. She shows the day's balance sheet: 102 homeless reported to Klimaka today.

Tales of the 'New Poor'

Many of those belong to what is called the "new poor" here. "It really started about two years ago," Stamatogiannopoulou says. Suddenly, it wasn't just people with psychological problems or drug addictions who were knocking on the organization's red wooden door. "The middle class is increasingly becoming our target group," she says.

The "new poor" includes Lambros Zacharatos, who navigates the streets of Athens with Leonidas Koutikas in the Klimaka van night after night. Until last year, Zacharatos worked as an interior designer, earning up to €4,000 ($5,300) in a good month. "All of the sudden, boom, the crisis was here and 90 percent of the commissions were gone," he says. Zacharatos and two others sleep in a room above the Klimaka offices. The bunkbeds and veneer cabinet are reminiscent of a youth hostel.

Zacharatos says things happened very quickly. He lost his job, had no money to pay for his apartment, and within a few months he was out on the street. "Never in my worst nightmares would I have imagined that I would one day become homeless," he says.

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