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As poverty increases, more citizens turn to municipal social services for survival

More than 20,000 Athenians now depend on city social services for daily needs

Through its social services agency Kyada, Athens municipality provides extensive support through a network of soup kitchens, a social grocery where citizens in need can obtain footstuffs and household goods, family support and programmes to support the homeless

Food kitchens are also run by voluntary groups (Photo: Reuters) Food kitchens are also run by voluntary groups (Photo: Reuters) More than 20,000 Athenians are dependent on municipal social services for their daily survival, amid an increase of poverty and homelessness in the capital.

The figure is contained in a report – the first of its kind – on the work of the city's social services network, presented by Mayor Yiorgos Kaminis on Wednesday, ahead of the international day for the eradication of poverty on Thursday.

The report revealed that among those using its services are a growing number of low-income pensioners, the unemployed, university graduates and minors, as well as entire families, for their basic nutritional needs.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Kaminis said: "Despite the unprecedented crisis affecting our country, we have managed to keep the city centre on its two feet, where serious problems have concentrated and even at a time when the social structures of the state have collapsed."

Through its social services agency Kyada, the municipality provides extensive support through a network of soup kitchens, a social grocery where citizens in need can obtain footstuffs and household goods, family support and programmes to support the homeless. 

Its mutual assistance programme provides food, clothing and hygiene support to 13,500 people (including 3,000 children) a year. The programme is supported by more than 100 companies and organisations in Greece and abroad, who have donated more than 200 tonnes of food, clothing, toys and household items. The goods are distributed by appointment only, to avoiding beneficiaries the indignity of having to queue. Kyada estimates that the value of goods distributed through this programme at €1m. Offers of donations to the programme can be made via the dedicated 15422 number.

On the 1,400 using the municipality's soup kitchen, 60% are Greek, 70% are male and 60% are between 36 and 60 years of age. Three in four have no income whatsoever while another 11% have income of less than €320 a month

The municipality's soup kitchen on Sofokleous street distributes 1,400 servings of food, at two times (noon and 4.30pm) a day. Kyada reports that 60% of recipients are Greek. Of the total, most of male (70%) and aged between 36 and 60 years of age (60%). Three in four have no income whatsoever, and are homeless, destitute and unemployed, while another 11% have income of less than €320 a month. 

The report notes that not only are those turning up at the soup kitchens for the first time younger -  7.6% of first-time users are under 18, 10.9% are aged between 18-25 and a quarter are aged 26-35 years – they are also better educated, with 22% having completed high school and 18% possessing a third-level qualification.

The municipality's social grocery, established in 2007, is a joint initiative between a homeless foundation and the Marinopoulos supermarket chain, which provides all the required supplies and manpower. After proving that they earn less than a certain minimum, applicants can take what they need from the grocery for free. 

In the first six months of this year, the social grocery provided for 774 households, or 2,026 people, three-thirds of whom are Greek, followed by Albanians (11.2%) and Romanians (5.8%) and others. In the second half of the year, a further 1,013 families joined the programme.

Three in four recipients are unemployed, others pensioners, while 7% are have jobs but are unable to make ends meet.

Another programme, "Solidarity in the Family", is supported by Cosmote and food, physical and psychosocial support to 200 families.

Interviews with 460 homeless people suggests that 60% of them are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Just over three in four of the homeless are men and 53% are Greek. A quarter of the homeless are aged under 35, another quarter are under 45

The municipality's work with the homeless includes a shelter and street support programmes. According to Kaminis, the city now has about 1,000 homeless – a figure that others estimate to be 20 times that.

Interviews with 460 homeless people suggests that 60% of them are dependent on alcohol or drugs, meaning that homelessness is primarily a problem of addiction.

Just over three in four of the homeless are men and 53% are Greek. Of the non-Greeks, 53% are European, mainly from eastern Europe, and 46% are Asian and African.

The report found that a quarter of the homeless are aged under 35, another quarter are under 45.

Most said that financial problems pushed them into homelessness, while others said they had no families to support them. When asked, over half of respondents said they didn't want accommodation.

The programme has succeeded in getting 20 homeless off the streets and into temporary hostel accommodation.

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Society
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Social exclusion
Yiorgos Kaminis
Poverty