Athens Greece / Portland Oregon
Zero Unsanctioned Unsheltered Homeless in Tents or Structures in Athens -
Just got back from Greece. What a wonderful country. While visiting, my family allowed me to take a break and spend four days touring refugee camps and homeless service agencies in Athens. Andreas Kafkis was my guide and friend.
Greece homelessness is significant. Greece is a country of 11 million and has 20,000 souls that are homeless. Many of them in Athens, a city of 650,000, the same population as Portland. Asking Athenians how many unsheltered they believe were living on the streets? “About 30 or 40.” Unofficial but my perception as well. The photo of the bench is the only unsheltered soul I found living on the street in my four-day tour. In Portland, we have over 2,000 unsheltered. As I toured Chinatown in Portland this past Thursday, I was struck by the 100’s living within only a few square blocks and how poorly we are caring for our less fortunate. Why is Greece, a country suffering from 18.5% unemployment and a decades long recession, caring for their citizens so much better than Portland, one of the richest cities in the richest country in the world?!?
The Greek Orthodox Church is incredibly strong and supports their less fortunate almost completely. All mid-size and large churches have a “House of Peace” that are open every day, and many at night, to care for their communities, including refugees. Was an eye opener on how very important community is to any solution we consider here. While our city does not have a single dominant faith-based culture, we do have strong communities, neighbors, homeless service agencies and funding, now. We always paint ourselves in Portland as being in the midst of a Humanitarian Crisis, but the more I review other cities (unsheltered homeless: Athens, Georgia, 46; Boise, 61; Indianapolis [similar population as Multnomah County], 105), it becomes more apparent that our city suffers from a Leadership Crisis, misguided compassion. What civil society allows their neighbors to live and die on their sidewalks? It certainly is not allowed in one of the oldest civilized cities and democracy in our world.
Was a tale of two completely different stories when reviewing Athens three refugee camps, Elaionas, Schisto and Skaramangas. Escaping from wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Africa, there are more than 200,000 refugees in Greece now. Did not see any options or opportunity for them. My tour guide said that Greeks call the camps “cemetery of souls.” Like Portland, no plan, just in a holding pattern, unsheltered population growing, lost. The conditions in the camps were heart wrenching. The photo’s below are the only ones they allowed me to take. The conditions I saw at Skaramangas Camp were appalling. My guide said the government makes them, “live like animals.” When I mentioned to him that what he and I were seeing was similar to some streets in Portland, he was dumbstruck, “seems very strange to me.”
Travelling from one camp to another, I noticed the graffiti: “Solidarity with Refugees” and “No Human is Illegal.” Slogans, yes, but what I witnessed in Athens confirmed it was their practice. Greece is a poor country, they are overwhelmed but what I witnessed was a clean city, filled with decent, compassionate, and proud people. The photo of the bench with the unsheltered homeless soul led to me being yelled at by a woman walking by. I suspect that she did not want her city to be seen only through that lens, her pride was on display. You and I want that same pride in our Portland.
No Human is Illegal / Solidarity with Refugees