#COVID19-How local and regional authorities respond to the crisis: The case of Athens

There are not many cases in history where a world crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, has become a lever of change, upgrading the care for the least favoured and most disadvantaged citizens, such as the homeless.

Those who suffer the most within the City of Athens and those who –according to studies- were the most vulnerable to the pandemic, that is homeless, were the City of Athens’ Reception and Solidarity Center’s (greek acronym KYADA) main concern, before, during and after the lockdown.

From the very first moment, KYADA’s priority was to safeguard both its beneficiaries’ and its staff’s health and limit COVID-19’s spread, by taking very strict safety measures:

Disinfection with chemical means is realized on a daily basis, at the Center’s areas that are open to the public (e.g. Social Grocery, Social Pharmacy). The appropriate distancing is kept and all beneficiaries and employees are highly encouraged to use masks and antiseptics. Plexiglass separators are installed at the Center’s places that are open to the public (Social services, Citizens' Mutual Aid Hub, Social Pharmacy, Social Grocery). If needed, our staff also uses face shields and disposable uniforms. A protection guide against COVID-19 was prepared and is distributed to our beneficiaries. The Municipal police is always present to our buildings, ensuring that all measures (especially distancing) are thoroughly kept.

In order to reduce the number of people moving in the city during the lockdown, we also limited the time our Social Services were open to the public. At the same time, Athenian Market (KYADA’s department where people in need can get used clothes and shoes) was temporarily closed.

KYADA supports approximately 26,000 beneficiaries per month, not only homeless but also individuals and families below the poverty line. This inevitably makes KYADA the flagship of social services in the City of Athens.

A new shelter for the city’s homeless

“From the very first moment we took on our duties, we had foreseen the need for a Day Center for the Homeless, and the need for a Dormitory, where any homeless could arrive, has his/ her clothes washed and find a safe place to stay and sleep, both during the winter and the summer”, says Grigoris Leon, KYADA’s president.

“Our strategic plan to minimize homelessness started immediately – we doubled the on-site interventions that our streetwork teams do, providing the homeless people who remain in the streets with food, water, snacks. After the outbreak, printed instructions on how to protect from COVID-19, antiseptics, masks are also distributed to the city’s homeless.

However, our biggest ambition for the homeless protection came true in the beginning of April, when a new shelter for the homeless with the capacity to host more than 400 people accepted its first residents.

The new structure comprises of three 7-floor buildings and a total of 55 apartments. Each apartment (from) has 2-3 rooms with shared kitchen (with fridge) and bathroom. Every room has a TV set, a natural gas radiator and a ceiling fan.

The complex was fully renovated in record time, in a minimum of time and cost, thanks to the generous contribution of many sponsors.

According to KYADA’s president, “never before had the City of Athens reacted so promptly and realized such an ambitious social project. We are talking about a huge structure that is here to stay, one of the biggest projects in decades with such a profound social impact”.

Now KYADA’s streetwork teams focus on convincing the homeless who remain in the streets to come to the new structure.

Alternative “open soup”

After the government's decision to suspend, due to COVID-19, the open soup kitchens all over Greece, the Reception and Solidarity Center (that used to host a daily open soup kitchen for 1.500 people) immediately recorded the people who used to proceed every day to our food distribution and now provides them with food packages on a weekly basis. KYADA also supplies with food all the homeless accommodation facilities within the city.

Moreover, for the beneficiaries that used to proceed to our Social Grocery and our Social Pharmacy and are unable to do so, due to COVID-19, a home distribution service has started, delivering basic goods (medicines and groceries) to those in need. “Our goal is to protect and care for every person in this city who needs our help”, Mr Leon concluded.

More information

ESPON is collecting evidence on how national and local actors are reacting to the COVID-19 crisis. ESPON is open to host any other authors covering the ESPON countries

  • Author: Nektaria Karakosta, KYADA press officer

    Article edited by Nikos Lampropoulos, ESPON Project Expert Press and Media Activities