Saturday, November 26, 2011

Greece's homeless set up their own shelter in abandoned hospital

Somehow I doubt if this kitchen is going to receive a Michelin star any time soon but in its way it is a small miracle, just a couple of months ago this was an just another empty room in a gutted building that used to be the Agios Pavlos (St Paul's) hospital in the centre of Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. As the country enters it's fifth year of recession and unemployment continues to rocket a growing number of people have been forced onto the streets. While no official figures exist for Thessaloniki, authorities in Athens report that 25,000 people there spend their nights sleeping rough.

However, amidst all the stories of suffering and despair a small group has turned a shell of a building into a viable living space, offering 28 people the chance to get off the streets. When I first entered the building, just days after activists had broken through the chained front doors ( see here www.flickr.com/photos/teacherdudebbq2/6233732675/ ) I thought that they were crazy to even contemplate turning the five story block into a place where people could live. Massive holes in the roof, dozens of missing or smashed windows, entire exterior wall missing meant that even in daytime the place was uncomfortably cold.

Yet, my pessimism has turned out to be misplaced and now where there had been gutted rooms, a kitchen and dinning area have been created, in the upper floors kids from the neighbourhood use the space for band practice and many of the rooms have been turned into dorm style rooms.

However, problems still remain as there have been conflicts between residents over the use of drugs and alcohol leading to at least one eviction. While I was there a window was being replaced after it had been smashed by angry drug user unhappy with fellow residents insistence that drugs had no place in their space.

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