ATHENS, Greece, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- The number of homeless men and women in Greece has grown by 25 percent in the past two years, with 17,000-20,000 people living on the streets, officials say.
With Greek unemployment above 16 percent amid a mounting economic crisis, many people are being forced into homelessness, Ekathimerini reported Sept. 14.
"I never thought this could happen to me. I later realized how thin the line is. It can happen to anyone. We are all potentially homeless," said Petros Papadopoulos, 40, from Athens, a former chef who lost his job and then his home in 2010.
"The population of the homeless has changed," said Aris Violantzis, a psychologist at the Klimaka non-governmental organization. "It's usually middle-aged people, in their productive years, who thought everything was going fine and they did the right things. They feel cheated," he added.
Increased homelessness is being seen throughout Europe.
In Spain, which has an unemployment rate of 21 percent, homeless shelters reported an increase of people utilizing services of 15.7 percent from 2008 to 2010. The number of homeless families in Britain rose by 10 percent in the past year.
"There are more and more people who were definitely not in danger of becoming homeless that are actually there now," said Karolina Krzystek, policy officer at FEANTSA, a group of non-profits that work with the homeless.
Emergency funding is available to help feed people and house them in the short term, but long-term plans to help move the homeless back into society have been sacrificed to spending cuts.
"People might not be freezing on the street but they don't find permanent lodging either," Krzystek said. "There is the thinking that the homeless are so far away from the mainstream labor market that ... [they] can wait for now in shelters and we'll see when better times come."