Squeezed between steering wheel, handbrake, door and dashboard, Katerina reads in her history book, takes notes for school. Next to her, on the driver’s seat, cat Eddy stares right in the camera lens. It may look like a cute snapshot on a sunny day, if it wasn’t for a sad detail: a withering spring stuck in a roll of toilet paper. A distinctive memory of a former normal life that turned into a grim reality for a family of four.
At night the seat where Katerina sits during the day turns into a bed for her sister Fay. Cat Eddy cuddles with Katerina on the back seat. Father Nikos and mother Maria sleep in shifts on the driver’s seat. When the one parent is in the car, the other spends the night on a bench of the park where the car has been parked, on a side road of Irakleio suburb of West Athens. “It’s dangerous when it gets dark,” Maria says “we have to watch out.”
With both parents without a job and all savings already spent, the family of four has been living in the uncomfortable environment of an old car for the last two weeks. They were evicted from the home they were renting due to a mountain of outstanding debts to the landlord and utility companies.
Nikos and Maria at their late 40’s, Fay and Katerina aged 16 and 14, packed a few things, took their pet in their arms and made their old car their new home.
“The girls started to cry when we told them that we’re going to live in the car,” Maria told the reporter of Sunday newspaper Proto Thema that revealed the story. “The first night in the car was the most difficult, psychologically,” Maria adds with a trembling voice.
“We had our decent home, our cooked food, we offered our kids what they needed. I could never think that I will end up like that at my 49. We knew that times are tough, but never thought that we will end up on the street,” Maria said.
It’s Greece’s new homeless: decent families who lost everything due to economic crisis and austerity measures and they live their own hell in social isolation in a collapsed welfare state.
Decent families who live from charity aid, food packages, soup kitchens or neighbors’ help.
Decent families who cannot even enjoy a warm bed and a proper shower, a home-cooked meal, a flower in the vase.
The story of the family is common to many Greek households with no extraordinary means and salaries. Their economic decline started in 2012, when the bakery where Nikos was working closed down. Maria, who was working as a school traffic woman, was fired. The family managed to survive using the thin compensation Nikos received after being fired. Both parents tried to find new jobs but without result. Soon all the money available for the family was vanished.
In Greece of Samaras’ success story and IMF’s wrong calculations, there are hardly job vacancies available after four full years of recession.
According to official statistics, 27 percent, that is 1.3 million people are unemployed, the majority of them long-term jobless. These numbers refer only to employees and not to self-employed or free-lancers. Unemployment allowance is just 365 euro per month for the duration of total 12 months independently of the years of work life.
At the same time, more than 60% of the country’s population lives either in poverty or is at risk of poverty. According to State Budget Office of the Greek Parliament, 2.5 million Greeks live below the line of relative poverty and another 3.8 million people are at risk of poverty. “Relative poverty” is defined when a family of four has less than 908 euro per month.
Being one of the country’s 1.3m unemployed for more than three years, father Nikos managed to find a job at the kiosk. For 300 euro per month. The money maybe enough to feed the family or cover elementary needs but hardly rent and utility bills. Official statistics define as “Relative poverty” the monthly income of below €908 for a family of four.
Maria told the Proto Thema reporter that it was their pride that has hindered them so far from seeking charity aid and possible beds at the Homeless Shelter.
The story of the new-homeless family shocked the public opinion and mobilized a lot of Greeks who urged the media to open a bank account so that they could send donations. Many offered food and clothing and even work.
A man called at a TV-news magazine featuring the drama of the family and offered a home for the family to live in free of charge.
Deputy Labor Minister Vasilis Kerkeroglou intervened in one of the morning TV-news magazines reporting on the fate of the family and said that there was a plan on the way to shelter 1,500 homeless and that “half of them could even find a job.”
When the plan will be implemented in real life, it is not known yet.
UPDATE 21/10/2014: After the huge public response, the family was offered the temporary opportunity to stay in a hotel for free for four days. The family moved to the hotel on Monday evening. After the four days in a warm bed, shower and proper meals, the family will either move into a home offered by the Attica Prefecture or by some generous private donor. Many people offered food, clothes and cash, while some offered to pay part of the rent for a home.
PS thank God, the government has plans for the poor, who turned poor after the government taxed also the poor, apart from destroyed any effort for growth and development…