Some time ago, a homeless man was found dead on a bench in Heraklion. Today, three young people went missing, trying to warm up in an abandoned building in Thessaloniki.
Their origin? People.
Every day, we at Thalassa of Solidarity witness homelessness and precarious housing for many people living in our city. Beyond all those who are “on the move” for many different reasons, we notice a worrying increase of people living in either dilapidated apartments or abandoned buildings because unemployment and impoverishment leave them to unable to pay rent, pushing them to the brink of despair and forcing them to live in miserable and unsanitary conditions, often without the possibility to bathe, wash their clothes, or use a toilet.
Recently, there has also been a particular persecution of refugees and asylum seekers from the substandard accommodation structures in our country. On the one hand we see more families being evicted as their short-term ESTIA accommodations expire (the temporary housing program covers refugees for one month from the time they are granted asylum and ends immediately if their case is rejected) and facing poverty as their financial support is discontinued. On the other hand, those who manage to rent a house through the IOM’s HELIOS program find it difficult to find work, procure food, and attend online Greek courses that would help them integrate into society. Amidst all this, the FILOXENIA (hospitality) program that places refugees in hotel units across the country is ending. The result? Hundreds of vulnerable people, including those with chronic illnesses, single-mothers, victims of abuse, and families with young children are literally on the street, where they not only face the dangers of homelessness, but fines for violating COVID-related restrictions on movement…
We must keep in mind that we all have the right to safe and decent housing. This includes locals at risk of eviction due to financial difficulties, rising long-term unemployment, foreclosures, and poverty as well as immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers etc. Housing is recognized as one of the fundamental human rights, although in recent years more and more governments and xenophobic voices within societies refuse to accept it. In many parts of the country, and also throughout Europe, there is a considerable stock of unused housing in the form of empty public buildings, closed apartments, abandoned homes, and inactive hotel units. Through simple procedures and minor adjustments, these could be converted into suitable residences for individuals and families. What we need above all, is the political will.
So as we plan the society we want for ourselves and our children, let us raise this constant demand for housing in our conversations. It is something that already concerns thousands of people and will affect even more in the future as struggling economies, climate change, and environmental exploitation will gradually lead to even greater homelessness and displacement. Practical solidarity but also mutual assistance within our societies should be a given. These people are us. And we have the power to change things.