European Observatory on Homelessness: Policy Update 2006
By Aristides Sapounakis
FEDERATION EUROPEENE D'ASSOCIATIONS NATIONALES
TRAVAILLANT AVEC LES SANS-ABRI
EUROPEAN OBSERVATORY ON HOMELESSNESS
ON HOMELESSNESS AND ACCESS TO HOUSING
GREECE - 2006
Dr Aristides Sapounakis
Research Institute "Kivotos", Vas.Sofias & Ang.Pyrri 9, Athens 11527, Greece
tel: + 30 210 77 03 357, 210 77 59 531, fax: + 30 210 77 10 816;; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION 3
2. EMPLOYMENT 4
2.1. The official approach to employment and social policy 4
2.2. Unemployment 5
3. HEALTH AND SOCIAL PROTECTION 6
3.1. Health and homelessness 6
3.2. Pensioners 7
4. DATA COLLECTION AND RESEARCH 8
4.1. The official approach 8
4.2. Data collection by non governmental organisations 8
5. HOUSING AND HOUSING RIGHTS 9
5.1. Mainstream Social Housing 9
5.2. Housing Loans and Mortgage arrears 9
5.3. Housing loans for specific social groups 11
5.4. Policies to resolve cases of squatting 12
6. INTEGRATIVE POLICIES AND MEASURES 13
6.1. Immigrants and asylum seekers 13
6.2. Repatriates 14
6.3. Roma communities 14
6.4. Domestic violence 14
6.5. Youth homelessness 16
6.6. De-institutionalisation 17
6.7. Substance abuse 17
6.8. New shelters 18
Although it attracted little attention in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2005-
2006, the phenomenon of homelessness in Greece has never been addressed by policy makers
as a special issue. In the absence of a comprehensive strategy for the homeless, policies have
always tended, and still tend to refer to specific target groups, thus being essentially
fragmented when seen as a whole. As a result, several categories of people such as young
people, one parent families, substance abusers, immigrants as well as older people above the
age of 50 failed to be serviced by the deficient safety net provided and are in danger on being
The aim of the present report is to assess the progress in the developments of comprehensive
and integrated strategies towards the prevention and alleviation of homelessness in Greece.
As can be seen in the following pages, no overall strategy directly related to homelessness
has been put forward during the last 12 months. The lack of such an integrated approach
relates both to the analytical domain of systematic data collection and the exploration of the
dimensions of homelessness as well as the formation of a coherent strategy to prevent and to
tackle the phenomenon.
What remains to be reviewed is the evolution of the National Action Plan, in its minimal
reference to the issue, and a fairly extensive collection of more or less fragmented policies
that are either directly or indirectly related to homelessness. Such policies are either directly
pertinent as they address the issue usually being targeted at a specific subcategory of
homeless people, or are tangentially relevant as they are intended to tackle social and
economical aspects of the Greek society at a national level.
Thus, the present review covers supplementary policies and measures that relate to the needs
of the specific target groups and have been put in effect in the particular period. It must be
noted, that the presentation of the entire legal and policy framework that caters for the needs
of the homeless in Greece lies beyond the scope of the present overview. Thus reference to
the broader context in which recent measures and policies take place will be made according
to the restrictions of the present study.
2.1. The official approach to employment and social policy
The European Commission has launched its new Social Agenda for modernising Europe's
social model under the requirements of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and employment. The
new agenda focuses on providing jobs and equal opportunities for all and ensuring that the
benefits of the European Union's growth reach everyone in society. By modernising labour
markets and social protection systems, it will help people seize the opportunities created by
international competition, technological advances and changing population patterns while
protecting the most vulnerable in society.
The employment policy pursued over recent years in Greece places the emphasis on
improving the employability of vulnerable social groups instead of relying on income support
measures and other traditional passive measures. A substantial increase in the number of
structures and programmes providing community social support and care services scattered
around the country has also been observed, though ensuring their financial sustainability,
when the ESF’s funding comes to an end, often constitutes a challenge. Income support
measures have been extended over the last few years to cover more social vulnerable groups,
although they still do not form a proper safety net.
Despite, however, these positive developments and the fact that Greece has lived through a
period of sustained economic growth during the last decade, their impact on alleviating
poverty and social exclusion has been rather negligible. The main reasons for this is that on
the one hand, Greece continues to present the most unequal income distribution among the
EU-15 member states while, on the other hand, employment rates continue to remain low.
It may be argued that social policy inadequacies have a significant bearing upon this
situation. Apart from the fact that no particular links are evident between the various
measures implemented under the NAPincl, appropriate institutional mechanisms required to
promote synergy and close interaction between the various measures are still missing in
Greece. The issue of the quality of services offered remains an open question, while the
shortage of properly trained personnel is considered among the main weaknesses still facing
the social welfare sector in Greece.
As described above, unemployment is being regarded as a key issue that involves all social
policy aspects. According to the National Statistical Service (ESYE), the level of
unemployment in Greece has dropped from 10.4% to 9.7% in 2006. Despite this trend, it is
interesting to note that the sizeable percentage of 18.7% of young people aged between 15
and 29 as well as that of 14.5% of women are unemployed. The fact that unemployment rates
in Greece, although dropping, are still higher than the average rates of the European Union
has led to the deduction that access to the labour market must be strengthened especially
inasmuch as the most vulnerable groups are concerned, i.e. young people and women.
Furthermore it is becoming apparent that the figures for 2006 will not improve as the 5000
jobs lost in 2005 are increasing for the current period. In areas where factories closed down
there have been protests against policymakers’ inactivity in view of the need to provide
measures for the people made redundant.
In response to this need, the Minister of Labour and Social Protection has announced the
formation of the Social Solidarity Fund based on a law that will be prepared by September
2006. The new Fund will be concerned for areas of high unemployment and declining
productive sectors while it will also cater for the needs of unemployed people who are over
50 years old. Although this policy will be helpful for people who have lost their jobs and may
therefore be threatened with homelessness, there are reasons to believe that in many cases it
may create problems as beneficiaries being capable of working may illegally do so.
3 HEALTH AND SOCIAL PROTECTION
3.1. Health and homelessness
The National Health System (ESY) provides initial health care for everyone. Expenses are
covered by the patient’s social security. Poor people are entitled to attain what is termed a
‘poverty leaflet’ which gives them the benefits of full medical treatment. In most cases, social
workers who either work in shelters for the homeless or by the Social Agency of mainstream
hospitals usually help homeless people to issue this leaflet and receive the treatment they
The situation is less favourable in as much as immigrants and asylum seekers are concerned.
In 1999, following several incidents in which people entered the country only to receive free
medical treatment in Greek hospitals without even wishing to immigrate to Greece, the
Ministry of Health issued a decree which restricted the treatment of foreign nationals and had
a direct impact on immigrants and asylum seekers.
Since then, asylum seekers whose cases are being examined and for this reason have attained
the ‘pink card’ are allowed to use the services of the National Health System, along with the
right to stay and work in the country. These benefits are shared by legalised immigrants and
also those who are given what is called ‘agency note’ by the police.
It must be noted however that, despite the relevant Minister’s directive which grants medical
care for the above three categories of foreigners, mainstream hospital authorities tend to
implement the earlier 1999 restrictive decree. Thus in practice access to the National Health
System for immigrants and asylum seekers is effected through the referral of a supporting
body, as for example the Social Service or a non governmental organisation like Praksis, the
Red Cross, the Doctors without Frontiers etc.
One should note the ambivalent elements in the government’s approach to the wellbeing of
pensioners, who as research points out, must be considered as the most vulnerable as well as
numerous social group which is continually threatened by adverse housing conditions.
Following a tedious controversy, pensions were given a 4% raise, just slightly higher than
inflation rates. Similarly, the new legislative framework on retirement has pushed the
threshold of retirement age higher than before.
According to statistics and research on the issue, pensioners constitute one of the most
vulnerable groups in the Greek society.
Research conducted by the Social Policy Institute of the National Center of Social Research
has revealed that one out of five Greeks still lives below the threshold of poverty while 50%
of the population has an income that is less than the income of the richest 10%. In the
beginning of the year 2005, 523,843 people were without a job (11.2%) and around 80,000
people, being between 5 and 64 years old, are estimated to be substance abusers. Similarly, as
many as 4500 minors have experienced domestic violence and are facing the alternatives of
moving to an institution or sleeping rough.
The elderly, the unemployed, pensioners as well as households the leader of which has a low
educational standard are considered as being the vulnerable. 40% of households below the
threshold of poverty declare themselves incapable of paying their electricity and heating bills,
while a considerable portion of the total number of households in Greece (2.17%) are
threatened by bankruptcy in case of a member’s serious illness.
4 DATA COLLECTION AND RESEARCH
4.1. The official approach
As there is still no official interest in approaching the phenomenon of homelessness in its
own right as well as surveying its dimensions, there is still no statutory organisation involved
in data collection and research on homelessness in Greece. Nevertheless, as the public
discussion on homelessness becomes widened, it is hoped that policymakers will realize that
the only manner to cope with the issue comprehensively is through the systematic assessment
of the characteristics and needs of the various target groups involved and the elaboration of a
strategy to tackle the issue. A similar interest has already been expressed by experts in the
National Statistical Service in Greece (ESYE).
Furthermore, it must be noted that the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA, formerly
EKAKB), which currently operates ten agencies in the major urban centres of Athens and
Thessaloniki, has already started to keep a well planned record of the characteristics of the
users of their services. Although not directly relevant to homelessness, this inventory is
expected to be particularly helpful to understand the needs of specific target groups.
4.2. Data collection by non governmental organisations
The lack of official data on homelessness is to a degree covered by the initiative of the
voluntary sector. Thus there have been several more or less small scale approaches on the
issue by non governmental organisations which deal with homelessness the most important of
which are Klimaka, who have conducted a fairly extensive survey with interesting findings,
Praksis, the Greek Council for Refugees and the Network for the Right to Housing.
Yet, it is apparent that the different sources of data collection need to fit in a unified record
that will be continually reassessed. So long as this task fails to meet the official perspective, it
seems reasonable to suggest that it is a matter on which the voluntary sector, possibly the
Network for the Right to Housing, will cover.
5 HOUSING AND HOUSING RIGHTS
5.1. Mainstream social housing in Greece
The Workers’ Housing Organisation (OEK) who is the body responsible for social housing in
Greece, has been providing its beneficiaries with housing support, either in the form of
subsidised loans, rent subsidies or even in the form of ready made houses since the early
1950’s. In October 2005, OEK proclaimed the possibility of providing its beneficiaries the
option of receiving a second housing loan provided that they have duly repaid all obligations
they had and that they own no other dwelling.
It is also very interesting to note that in June 2006, OEK announced a measure that may
prove to be particularly effective for a specific vulnerable target group. It relates to people
who are struggling to stay employed as it concerns the subsidy of up to 50% on rent benefit
for long-term unemployed beneficiaries.
5.2. Housing Loans and Mortgage arrears
The Bank of Greece estimates that more than 50% of households who have received housing
loans have repayment difficulties as 12% of the total number of borrowers are faced by
instalments that in monetary terms are equal to the 40% of their income. As banking policy
makers are sceptical of the rising rate of inability of people to repay their mortgages, the
Chairman of the Bank of Greece asked for severe restrictions on the amount of housing loans
The European Central Bank has announced a further increase of 0.25% in interest rates which
at the 8th of August will reach the level of 3%. It is also reported that a further increase may
be expected later this year. This rise is expected to bear an additional burden to borrowers.
It is further estimated that the escalation of property prices, which in some cases have almost
doubled during the last 5 years, has led to a extensive rise in the average amount of money
that need to be borrowed as a housing loan. Thus in 2003, 83% of housing loans were
intended to cover the expense of as much as the ¾ of the property purchased. In 2005, only
62% of borrowers were able to pay for the remaining value themselves, the rest being obliged
to cover almost the whole amount by the loan. The main trend in 2006 is that housing loans
have almost doubled in price during the last five years while their repayment period has
gradually shifted from 15 to 25 and even 30 years. Characteristically, 13% of housing loans
issued in 2005 are payable within a period of more than 26 years compared to the minimal
amount of 0.1% of housing loans issued in 2001.
The difficulty to repay housing loans is staggering. It is estimated that in 2005 30000
properties (the figure includes businesses) have been confiscated while another 100000 have
been sold forcefully in order to avoid it. The trends appear more depressing this year due to
the rise of interest rates. As banking experts expect the joint figure of property confiscated
and being forcefully sold will rise to 300000.
It is very important to note that the interest rates of housing loans in Greece are higher that in
any other European member state. The reason for this lies in the amount of profit (spread)
that private banks are allowed to benefit, which reaches the figure of 2.21% leading to an
interest of 5% for the borrower, whereas the European mean for banking profit is 1.1%. The
Bank of Greece estimates that it will take more than 10 years for the situation to level.
On the other hand, the Internal Revenue Service is seriously considering taking measures
against people with outstanding taxation payments by confiscating their property. A similar
threat to private property derives from the difficulty than many households face in repaying
their consumers’ loans and plastic cards. It must be noted that a sizeable number of homeless
people leaving temporarily in shelters have experienced the burden of extensive debts to
banks that remain unpaid.
5.3. Housing loans for specific social groups
On the other hand, the problematic distribution of subsidised housing loans for specific
vulnerable groups is aggravating instead of being managed. The complication involves
repatriates and the Roma communities for whom the government announced the increased
availability and simplified procedure of granting housing loans two years ago.
Nevertheless, the promised subsidised housing loan system for members of the Roma
population has only sporadically been put in effect. Although loans have been issued, they
Thus, although the Prime Minister announced that nearly 110 million € have been spent on
housing for repatriates since 2004, it is estimated that as many as 3000 households of
repatriates are waiting to receive the housing loans that have been issued at that specific year.
Furthermore, it is reported than 100 out of 250 households of repatriates who were
temporarily housed in containers in Farkadona, Trikala, in 1993, still live there.
Similarly, members of the Roma communities complain about the procedures under which
they were given the modest number of 9000 housing loans a few years ago. They insist that a
number of them are exploited by people who do not belong to their community and they ask
for better implementation of the remaining 6000 loans which have not materialized yet. At
the same time, many settlements face housing deprivation, like the case of the 200
households of the Roma community in Aspropyrgos, greater Athens. They, too, claim that the
housing loans that they were promised never materialised.
Still, it must be noted that a modest number of 500 housing loans have been granted for
members of the Roma community in April 2006. The interesting innovation is that, in the
case of these new loans, the State has declared that it will undertake the responsibility of the
legal guarantor. Even if this favourable policy is actually materialized, it is argued that the
figure is too low to satisfy the specific target group’s housing needs and will merely act as a
5.4. Policies to resolve cases of squatting
The Ministry of Economics has prepared a new law in order to settle the cases of nearly
90000 pieces of statutory property across the country currently occupied by squatters, not
necessarily used for housing. Entitled to the provisions of the new law are people who have
been using the specific property for at least 20 years and continue doing so today.
Legalisation of the right to own the property will not involve legalization of illegal building.
The law further comprises detailed provisions which refer to payment by instalments while it
excludes property in archaeological sites, forests and other environmentally sensitive areas.
6 INTEGRATIVE POLICIES AND MEASURES
6.1. Immigrants and asylum seekers
There is scarcely an integrative measure or policy aiming at the housing and social inclusion
of immigrants and refugees in Greece. Asylum is granted to a minimal, almost fictional
percentage of applicants (0.9% in 2005 compared to the E.U. average of 26.4%), while the
situation in reception centres for refugees is still unbearable with no follow-up mechanisms
after users leave.
In addition to the above, reception centres are closing down at a period when more space is
needed and when even the Ministry is asking for more centres to be established, while
programs like ‘Eva’ which contributed to the promotion of social inclusion of the nearly 730
women asylum seekers seized to operate at the end of 2005.
Furthermore it has become apparent that the tedious process of documentation of economic
immigrants under the provisions of law 3386/2005 needs not only additional stages but also
less bureaucratic procedures in order to be accomplished. By mid 2006, only half of the
country’s nearly 1,000,000 immigrants have managed to become documented.
On the other hand, it is evident that homelessness is a phenomenon that threatens almost all
new-comers whether they classify as asylum seekers or not. As most immigrants are capable
of working, once they somehow settle in the country they appear to manage to join the labour
market and achieve a more or less steady income. As official employment reports state,
immigrants on the whole have managed to become accommodated properly in Greek labour
market and a significant majority of them appears to have settled well in the country. The end
result has been sustained by the fact that the employment of immigrants tends to involve
informal activity which often survives bureaucratic control.
The problematic distribution of housing loans for repatriates has already been presented in
section 5.1. Thus, although the main wave of the nearly 180,000 repatriates who migrated to
Greece during the 90’s has settled usually employing their own means, their smooth insertion
in the housing and labour markets has not been successful as yet. In addition to the above, it
has also been reported that the situation for Greeks from Pontos is worsening as 800
repatriates were allegedly forced to leave the country due to formalities involving the lack of
the necessary documents that will classify them as repatriates.
6.3. Roma communities
As in the case of repatriates, the problems faced by members of the Roma community who
have not managed to see their housing loans materialising have been presented in section 5.1.
Furthermore one should also note the cases in which members of the Roma communities face
prejudice relevant to housing issues. Such incidents are reported in Koilada, Larissa, where
people were not allow to build their home legally due to an unclear building permit ban and
in Nafplio where a whole household of ten members were left homeless being forced to
demolish their wooden hut by the local planning authorities who had earlier allowed other
cases of large scale illegal building to stand. In another incidence in Alikarnassos,
Herakleion, police officers used their guns to keep away members of the Roma community
who protested against their illegal electricity supply being cut.
In June 2006 people of the Roma community in Kladisos, Chania, protested because of the
inadequacy of their living condition. A month later, a number of structures, used by the local
Roma community mainly for storage, were demolished by the municipality. People protested
and asked again for their resettlement in a properly serviced site
6.4. Domestic violence
The Shelter for Domestic Violence for Women and Children in Herakleion, Crete, has
conducted research on the phenomenon of domestic violence among more than 1000 people
all over Greece. Almost half of the interviewees revealed that they have witnessed or
experienced domestic violence while it has become apparent that cases of reported incidents
have staggered significantly during the last four years.
It must also be noted that in November 2005, women in Thessaloniki participated in the
demonstration organised by the Centre of Social Support for Women protesting against the
manner in which the city’s shelter for battered women operates. More specifically they
complained for the bureaucratic procedures for admission, the delay in the establishment of a
sound safety net for victims of domestic violence as well as the need to train state officials to
realize the sensitivity needed on approaching the issue
During the last 12 months there have been several meetings and mini-conferences in Greece
on the issue. The discussion among experts and policymakers from statutory and non
governmental institutions has come to the conclusion that, even though there is a distinct
progress on addressing domestic violence additional measures are needed to tackle the
phenomenon. Apart from the need for more shelters for battered women, a working group of
legal advisors has been formed in order to prepare a legal instrument for the issue.
A direct outcome of the discussion on domestic violence is the law produced to the
Parliament in July 2006. This legal document is particularly sensitive to issues of domestic
violence as it introduces the term ‘rape’ in cases of unwanted sexual encounter between
husband and wife, while it also forbids physical violence on children. Still the law does not
include accommodation provisions for the victims of domestic violence.
Apart from the case of women, the specific legal instrument also relates to children who are
victims of domestic violence. It must be noted however that although the more than 20
existing structures of the statutory and voluntary sectors may accommodate as many as 1000
children, it is estimated that there are more than 700 victims of domestic violence on a yearly
basis, 60 of whom have had the legal status of being instructed by court in the last 12 months.
It is therefore evident that additional services for the young must also be established.
6.5. Youth homelessness
The Minister of Justice admitted the need to approach the issue of children with the required
sensitivity and announced that there will be a children’s consultant appointed to represent all
children in court. He further admitted that the asylum seeker unaccompanied children’s
shelter in Anogeia, Crete, may only keep 30 children and there is a need to establish more
similar shelters. It must be noted that according to UNICEF, as many as 280000 children in
neighbouring Albania are without parental protection while 5000 are exploited for illegal
labour in Greece and Italy.
A recent debate in the Greek media led to increased public awareness on the issue of violence
amongst youngsters after an unfortunate incident in early 2006 in Veria, Northern Greece
involving a 14 year old boy from Eastern Europe who is still missing. As ‘Child’s smile’, an
NGO dealing with children, reports there are 42 missing children in Greece today.
Furthermore it must be noted that serious problems have been encountered in the case of
Mitera Infant Institution in Athens. Reporters have expressed their disapproval of the
inadequate living conditions of the nearly 100 infants and children housed in the premises
while the President of the Institution complained about restriction of funding and has been
forced to resignation.
Lastly, the Minister of the Interior, in cooperation with President of the Republic, has decided
to pursue a policy in favour of children leaving orphanages. According to this new de-
institutionalisation policy, child institution leavers, who indeed have often been assessed as
being bound to become vulnerable in their effort to be included in society and the labour
market, will have an additional benefit when applying for jobs in local and regional
In as much as the Psychargos programme is concerned, it is reported that between 1984-2006
73% of the total patients of psychiatric hospitals have left the institutions. Still an increasing
number of new admissions is currently observed in a manner that resembles the phenomenon
of ‘revolving doors’. People involved in the program stress the need to establish new clinics
as well as to reorganise the existing relevant hospitals through the incorporation of short and
medium period treatment units.
The revolving door phenomenon is also apparent in the case of penal institutions. It is
estimated that one out of five people released from prison re-enter the institution.
6.7. Substance abuse
The National Centre of Research and Information on Drugs revealed that 1 in every 10 pupils
at the age of 15 uses drugs, usually hash. OKANA further revealed that nearly 4000 drug
addicts are currently in waiting lists for drug dependency programs, yet only half of them
cooperate when their time comes. Similar statistics have been disclosed by KETHEA.
OKANA and KETHEA, the two statutory bodies mainly responsible to tackle the
phenomenon of substance abuse, establish a considerable number of small therapy units for
substance abusers in various cities in Greece. In many cases, they are faced with prejudice
and even fierce reaction by residents.
Still it is reported that serious problems have been encountered in the operation of OKANA.
According to the President of the Organisation, the waiting lists of people asking to join the
treatment programs using methadone are staggering while it is impossible to cater to the
rising needs as the request for additional staffing has been blocked. It has further been
reported that many units operated by OKANA, as for example the Larisa Juvenile Unit, have
serious functional problems.
6.8. New shelters
Lastly, in the period between August 2005 and August 2006, several new shelters have been
established in Greece, mainly in Athens and Thessaloniki. It is interesting to note that most of
these shelters have a specialised character as they cater for the accommodation and
psychosocial needs of specific target groups. These shelters are:
• A new shelter for mothers who are drug dependent and their children, under the age of 6
which has been inaugurated by the 18+ unit of the Psychiatric Hospital of Attica in
Athens. This shelter is the first of its kind in Greece
• A new shelter for youngsters with disagreeable behaviour aged between 13 and 17, the
inauguration of which has been announced by Children Villages SOS. The shelter will be
based in Athens and will start operating in September 2006. The particular service will be
financed by the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity. Its operation will have a
paradigmatic character as it is expected to provide the needed experience for similar
projects in two more cities in Greece
• The shelter named ‘House of Love’ for 75 expatriate families in Komotini, Northern
• A Day Centre has been established by the Municipality of Athens in the old Red Cross
premises in the city centre.
It must lastly be noted that the Prefecture of Athens has rented rooms in two central hotels for
people in need of temporary accommodation during the very cold period last winter.
Similarly, The Prefecture of Thessaloniki has offered a temporary shelter consisting of a free
bed and food in a deserted storage place in the city’s harbour. 10 out of the nearly 200 rough
sleepers accepted the invitation.