Furnished Apartments for the Homeless. “People need to get up from their sofas to start solving problems” said the moving company owner. In a few days, everything will be in place in the 17 apartments. Even the names on the doorbells in the entrance. Each one represents a family that today lives in the streets. Along with the house keys, the members of those families will gain some of their pride back.
“We are in charge of the renovation and furnishing, the foundation will receive some rent for orphaned children through ESPA (European Regional Development Framework Programme), and the council will be in charge of the monthly expenditures” says Vera Messini, president of the NGO “Human Humans” or “Ανθρώπινοι Άνθρωποι” .
A ghost building, abandoned years ago, has been renovated and is ready for glorious times. Not with wealthy architects and businessmen, like those who lived there in the ’50s, paying top prices for marble baths, wooden floors and the extra room for the maid. The new tenants will arrive without suitcases. Anything they need for this “social apartment building” – clothes, shoes, TV – volunteers will take care of it. That’s what the psychologist Mrs Messini calls this building. She sees today a project she has dedicated herself to coming into life itself.
The apartments are almost ready, but now comes the hardest part…choosing who gets to stay there. How do you choose between two homeless children? More than 70 people, homeless adults and children registered to the Municipality of Athens, will have, for at least two years, their own apartment by the end of the month. A new opportunity to help them stand on their own two feet.
Priority will be given to a homeless pregnant woman or to a single-parent family: to a mother with a little girl who sleep on benches at night. However, this year, they will be able to call home a warm apartment with a nice garden view. The largest apartments of 120sqm are reserved for large families.
The owner of the moving company who is there to help, retrieves and moves unused furniture to the freshly painted apartments. “A client informed me of the idea and I offered my help. When I announced it to my colleagues, they all said they would join me in the effort”. All of them gave up a few days of their day-to-day lives and jobs, to volunteer in this initiative. And they are not the only ones. More than 100 people have gone through their attics, basements and storage rooms to give away what they don’t use, and that way, they have covered 80% of all furniture needed. Velvet sofas and comfortable armchairs, chairs from the ’70s and vintage lamps, are put back into someone’s living room.
It has been very busy, says Christina, part of the volunteers who are organising the furnishings. They do whatever needs to be done, be it collecting clothes, shoes, objects, toys, or anything else the apartments need. They clean, tidy up, and also do the administrative work. She says that 6 months ago, when she first saw the building, it looked like a giant burned frying pan! Through layers of dust and dirt and thanks to the cleaning teams and volunteers who took up the entire project, they managed to complete the renovation, which overall cost more than 45,000 Euros. The windows were broken, there were pigeon nests everywhere; some walls were half demolished, and were built back up. Now it’s time to help build the people back up as well.
Christina has worked in a children’s institute before, and in order to avoid them getting closed up in their new apartments – which is a known issue for ex-homeless people – they have planned for them to have support from psychologists so that they can get back out in the employment market stronger than before. That is the target. To help them work again.
On the ground floor of the building, there will be a library/game room and also a kitchen area where the tenants will take turns into cooking. For the time being, there have also been organic products given to the project by farms, which will be sent to the families.
They received bed sheets and towels from a hotel in Mykonos, and beds and night stands from a hotel in Thessaloniki. Other than furniture, people have now started offering their apartment buildings. Three more are planned to take part in similar projects in other areas in Athens (Zografou, Vironas). For each one, the team has to visit and assess the work they will need to put in the renovations. They are in need of manual labour and there is no money; at the moment, they do not have official funding from anywhere, only what they manage to receive from supporters, or the yearly 20Euros subscription received from the NGO’s friends. At the end of the visit there, Vera’s phone rings. It’s someone else who is offering a property, “to house the people, in memory of my parents” he says.