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Reporter. Writer. Radio and multimedia producer  | Currently in Lisbon, Portugal  | Updating...


‘Disaster will happen’: Despair on the streets of Athens over financial crisis

ATHENS, Greece —Nearly every day, Panos Kotssamanis visits a park near the historic Agios Sostis church in Athens to get a free lunch from one of the many soup kitchens in the city.

“Everybody who is homeless and unemployed knows where to find food,” Kotssamanis says.

Before the Greek crisis started, Kotssamanis was working in a hotel and making close to €1,000 every month — about $1,100. Two years ago, the hotel closed and Kotssamanis lost his job. The financial aid ended a year ago, and now he has no income.

Kotssamanis’ mother left him her house when she died, and that’s where he lives now, not having to worry about paying the rent. His brother helps him out when he needs it. That, along with some money left in the bank, pays for the monthly bills of electricity and water.

“I’m okay,” he says. “I’m almost never hungry.”He adds, half apologetically: “I’m a little hungry, but not too much.”

Kotssamanis says he has gotten really good at finding food in Athens. He knows how to pick it from the garbage and knows every restaurant that offers free food.

Sometimes, the food comes to him.

Everybody who is homeless and unemployed knows where to find food.

“Some rich ladies come to the park and give you food,” he says, adding that “many” greeks are still “rich” because they “steal from the government in many ways.”

Kotssamanis doesn’t seem to think things can get much worse for him, even though the next few days will be crucial to decide if Greece is forced to leave the Eurozone.

“I don’t mind about leaving the euro,” he says. The greek crisis escalated last weekend when the government decided to shut down its banks for a week, until after the national referendum on Sunday when Greek voters will decide whether to accept new austerity measures proposed by the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank.

Some fear that a “No” vote will force Greece to leave the eurozone.

“I think disaster will happen,” says Kotssamanis.

In Kolonaki, a very expensive area close to the Parliament, you’ll find Greeks dressed in designer clothes, enjoying freshly squeezed orange juice and creamy cappuccinos in the chic cafes. At one place named Bibliothikis, Zinnias Mantrozos, the owner, explains to Mashable that the crisis has affected people in different ways.

His own family didn’t escape fallout from the crisis — his wife, a government employee, was fired after negotiations between Greece and the “troika” forced the government to fire public-sector workers — but this affluent neighborhood was less affected because people here “have more stable jobs,” he says.

“It depends on your position — whether you have a family or not, or if you work for the public or private sector.”

Across town, the neighborhood of Exarchia feels like a different world. Exarchia is a famously rebellious neighborhood in Athens. And it is where 33-year-old Alexia Giannopoulos built her cafe four years ago after her mother and brother lost their jobs when the crisis started. Giannopoulos studied microbiology but never got a job in the field. She makes €30 a day in the cafe (about $33) and helps her husband, who owns a bakery. The couple had to employ Giannopoulos’ uncle because he didn’t have anything to eat. While they help their extended family, they find it really hard to start building their own. They want kids but they know they can’t afford that as things are in Greece right now.

“Me and my husband — we’ll have to decide,” says Giannopoulos with sadness when the subject of leaving the country comes up. She would like to stay in the country where she was born what happens next may push her to leave. “I think disaster will happen,” she says, echoing her compatriot Kotssamanis. “I think we’ll leave the euro. I don’t want that.”

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