Multipurpose bus transforming lives of homeless people in Athens

Single working mother Vicky Arali created Immortaliting NGO after spending 4 days homeless in Athens In Franz Kafka’s novel,Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself turned into a bug.He struggles to adjust to his new reality and lives isolated and is unable to continue a normal life.He has become useless to the rest of his family and the society.For many people who are homeless, the feelings are the same — isolation, worthlessness and resentment. Only their stories are not written in a famous book by a renowned author.The authors are those who struggle and live day by day under their shadows where everyone can write his book.They did not choose to be homeless. They did not choose to live on the streets, wearing the same clothes for weeks, even months, not to be able to have a shower and to feel the touch of freshly washed clothes on their skin.The wish for most, like ordinary people, is to have a job, house, car, maybe a family or a pet and money in their pocket.Life, however, plays strange games and when the going gets tough, the tough does not always get going.But this story has a positive metamorphosis.

This is when Immortaliting was born; an NGO by Vicky Arali, a single working mother who wanted to make a difference in the lives of human beings. Arali created the organization to provide fresh and clean clothes to the homeless. It later added a mobile van, Metamorphosis, to its mission.

“All people have the right to access sanitation and to clean and useful clothes even when they haven’t got the money to acquire them,” Arali told Anadolu.In 2019, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Arali had the opportunity to observe and map homeless people in Athens. She visited hangouts several times and she offered to bring detergent, washing soap and anything related to hygiene.Her idea came into action after spending four days as a homeless person in Athens, with her mobile phone and a pair of sunglasses.She then realized that the homeless lack things that others take for granted.The initial idea was to stay five days in the streets. “On the 4th day I came home in tears, and I began to listen to my thoughts I recorded on my mobile,” she said.

“I was out there, I was invisible, exposed to danger, I slept a few hours in the morning on the tram, I was scared … I was filthy with dirty clothes, away from my loved ones, without money, no communication and invisible to the rest of society,” she said.

This is when she founded Immortaliting, then the Metamorphosis mobile van followed.Sixty-nine events have since taken place with more than 1,700 beneficiaries.Arali realized that the homeless had nowhere to take a shower, wash their clothes — some did not have a shower for more than four months.She said of one homeless man she met: “He pulled up his sleeves and I saw the marks and wounds in his skin.”

The idea of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis was then “born” — a mobile van that offers those who do not have access to clean water, the chance to take a warm shower.

“For those who live on the streets it is an unimaginable privilege to have access to hygiene and clean clothes,” said Arali.Access to a hot shower is the first step to regaining dignity and fighting the vicious cycle of homelessness, she said.

Valantis, one of the beneficiaries, spoke to Anadolu about his experience. He used to have a job but did not disclose how he ended up on the streets. He was proud and boasted about wanting to write a book.

“I will do it,” he said, full of pride and self-esteem.

“I have passed from several non-governmental organizations,” he said, “but this one is the only one that gives you what they say they will … is it just two things? Then these two things are provided to you.” He went into the van to have his shower and came out fresh and clean. He was transformed. He was happy.

Metamorphosis means transformation in Greek and many of the homeless become transformed into someone else. Someone who does not feel left out or isolated from society, just by having a warm shower and getting new clothes.

“A shower can help these people feel again like themselves. It can restore their dignity, renew their confidence and empower them,” said Arali. “It makes them regain their image before they became homeless … they feel nice.”

A few more came, some very reluctant to speak. They went through the wardrobe of clothes, picked the ones they wanted and left.Stelios, the driver and coordinator of the van, said many times it is very challenging as some might be psychologically troubled so dealing with them requires patience and understanding.

“Many times they come and talk and just sit here,” he said. They feel so excluded that even the presence of the van and Stelios gives them a small comfort. My job is not to judge, Stelios said. “I’m here to make them feel good about themselves, to make them feel they are included.”

Arali’s hope is to expand the metamorphosis fleet in other cities.

“I believe in reintegration,” she said. “To be the change we want to see in the world.’

Magda Panoutsopoulou  |14.01.2024 – Update : 14.01.2024



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