ATHENS — It is hard to miss the colourful house with its walls covered with graffiti in Metaxourgeio, a working-class Athens district.
Here, immigrants push supermarket carts full of metal scraps, while in garages only old cars are being repaired.
In this little red house, alongside the railway line, the homeless come to find warmth and shelter, clothing, food or at least psychological support.
Klimaka, a non-governmental group formed in 2000 and backed financially by the health, foreign affairs and labour ministries, aims to help those who have lost the most.
In Athens, the profile of a homeless person has changed with the economic crisis, said Effie Stamatogiannopoulou of Klimaka.
“Before, the categories of people on the streets were immigrants, alcoholics and drug addicts,” said Stamatogiannopoulou, a professional nurse.
In the past two years however “our data show a 25 percent increase of homeless people who have no such problems but are simply unemployed,” she added.
The latest figures confirm this trend: 20 percent of the active population is unemployed and almost half of those — 48 percent — are younger than 25.
Among some 400 people who come to the Klimaka centre every week is 33-year old Lorenzo Braimi, originally from neighbouring Albania.
Living in Athens for 18 years, Braimi lost his job as an electrician six months ago. Now, with a pen in his hand, he carefully checks newspaper ads.
“I couldn’t pay my rent anymore and I ended up in the street. For several days I stayed with friends who eventually advised me to come to this association,” Klimaka, he said.
For ten days now, he has come here every morning to check the papers and use the centre’s phone to reply to the ads for jobs.
“I am not afraid of any work,” he insisted, even asking visiting AFP reporters whether there is a “little job for me in your company?”
Petros, 56, shuns the media. A former seaman, he has been unemployed for the past three years, blaming his predicament on growing competition from Turkish and Filipino sailors.
With a salary of around 2,000 euros ($2,600) per month for a working week of around 50 hours, Petros could not compete with manpower paid only 600 euros per month.
Living on the streets for two years now, he constantly looks for a bed to spend the night. He has two brothers, but they “are both unemployed.”
“In Greece, the problem of the homeless is recent,” said Christos Papatheodorou, social politics professor at the Democritus University of Thrace.
The family, traditionally a bastion of solidarity in Greece, has so far contained the problem during the crisis, “but the situation risks to explode,” warned Stamatogiannopoulou.
According to the statistics bureau ELSTAT, more than three million of Greece’s population of 11 million — or 27.7 percent — were close to poverty or social exclusion in 2010, at the very start of the crisis.
Things have become much worse since.
Papatheodorou noted that EU statistics agency Eurostat and national statistics offices base their figures on a typical household, that is, on those having a roof above their heads.”
“Therefore, the increase of extreme poverty among homeless people does not appear in the statistics,” he said.
Klimaka estimates that 20,000 people live in the streets of Athens nowadays.
George Kaminis, the capital’s mayor, told Ethnos daily last December that the number of homeless has increased by 20 percent compared to the previous year.
Papatheodorou worries about the future.
“Worsening pay, all these cuts, notably in public services and social security system, risk increasing poverty even more,” he warned.