Ask any Greek citizen about austerity and they will tell you about a broken country – one in which the poorest and most marginalised have lost what little stake they had in a society reeling from an unprecedented economic collapse and painful bailout. Fiscal austerity is not just a phrase – it has real consequences for real people. And perhaps not surprisingly, it is the homeless and the addicted that feel the full force of a tornado of budget cuts that they had no role in precipitating.
Athens has witnessed an explosion of homelessness and unemployment; the long-feared humanitarian crisis is making itself felt among those who can cope with it least. Worryingly, within this toxic mix of rising costs, homelessness and unemployment an added ingredient – drug abuse – is resulting in the perfect storm of suffering and misery. Greece’s powerful new illicit drug, Sisa. According to Wikipedia, Sisa is ‘a methamphetamine derivative which can be found exclusively in Greece originating in Athens. Its use has been prolific due to its low cost which can be as low as two euros for a single dosage. The drug is commonly used as an alternative to cocaine‘.
The long-term effects of Sisa use is not yet known. However, users report increased aggression and the formation of severe ulcers. This burgeoning underclass of those who have lost all hope is a disaster that Greek society will be wrestling for many years to come.
The film-maker that focuses on ‘underground’ or ‘hidden’ stories, VICE, has recently released an excellent film on the plight of the marginalised in Athens; it makes for very sober viewing indeed. The sense of hopelessness is palpable as the film tells the story of those people who are viewed by their government as a nuisance to be cleansed from the streets and swept from view.
In the film I could see nothing of the work of non-governmental agencies in helping the homeless with food, accommodation and rehabilitation. I thought primarily of the Orthodox church, a very wealthy institution in its own right. And I remembered reading an article somewhere that stated that the Church was regularly distributing in excess of 1,300 meals per day to the poor and homeless. But what about drug rehabilitation? Well, that’s very expensive and beyond the resources of the state at this point in time, never mind the Church which is very much in ‘firefighting’ mode when it comes to the overwhelming need it encounters on a daily basis.
Is there hope in this situation? Of course the Church fulfills its role as a prophetic witness wherever it raises the banner of social justice and in-so-doing shows hope in action. Although church bodies are by their very nature limited in the specialised drug rehabilitation they can offer, they can shout loudly with a view to shaming their government into a more compassionate approach; the homeless in Greece and elsewhere, are hungry for compassion and love.
Anyway, you can watch the first part of the film here (and the second half follows on from it on youtube):