Streetwork Project in Athens and Thessaloniki

The “Streetwork Project” – an initiative of the two clubs “Checkpoint” and “Red Umbrella Athens” and “ARISTOTLE” – was created in 2013 and over the years has approached vulnerable groups such as users of psychoactive substances, refugees, immigrants, sex workers, men who have sex with men and the homeless. The project implements actions in central parts of Athens and Thessaloniki and provides information services, harm reduction, referral to other agencies and organizations. It also intervenes to promote prevention, regular screening and safer sex and distributes leaflets, condoms and synergies for safer use for intravenous users.

The Streetwork Project addressed the additional needs that emerged in the field during the pandemic, due to the restrictive measures. At the same time, the partial suspension of organizations and agencies providing support services to vulnerable populations has exacerbated the situation, as many of their homeless fellow citizens are already facing severe food problems. That’s why they adjusted their actions, extended our working hours and days.

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, through the websites and social media of the clubs, they issued the first call to the public to strengthen this effort. The response was very moving.

On Monday, April 27, 2020, due to the growing needs, they started a crowdfunding campaign to raise more food, bottled water, juices, snacks, protective medical material (masks, gloves, antiseptics) and personal hygiene items.

If you want to make a cash donation, crowdfunding campaign can be found here>>>. It will be available until May 30, 2020.

So far, they have collected:

  • 1,600 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 6,000 disposable gloves
  • 4,500 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 25 sleeping bags
  • 14,000 bottles of bottled water
  • 2,500 juices
  • 3,500 croissants
  • 2,500 snacks (breadsticks, nuts cookies, etc.)
  • 2,500 portions of food

From March 31 until today, they have made the following available to vulnerable groups:

  • 400 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 100 disposable gloves
  • 100 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 15 sleeping bags
  • 3,500 meals (portions of food, toast, sandwiches, croissants, etc.)
  • 3,000 juices and water

 

Shelter for homeless users opened in Athens

Source: Positive Voice

On the initiative of the Municipality of Athens and in collaboration with organisations OKANA and KETHEA a shelter for homeless users of psychoactive substances opened its doors in Athens on 22 April 2020. It is located at the premises of the Ionis Hotel at 41 Halkokondyli Street, in the centre of the city and aims to “embrace” vulnerable groups in order to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic.

The building will accommodate 70 people providing the possibility of hosting up to 140 people for up to 6 months.

Users will receive the following services on a 24-hour basis, with full respect for human rights:

  • Housing
  • Individual care and hygiene
  • Treatment programs
  • Nursing
  • Counselling
  • Psychosocial support and interconnection with health services
  • Legal assistance
  • Providence
  • Social and labour reintegration

Greek organisations started street work with vulnerable groups

The Positive Voice announces the suspension of the operation of the prevention and examination centres “Checkpoint” in Athens and Thessaloniki, from 16 March 2020.

In the context of our contribution to the suspension of the spread of the pandemic, but also to the protection of the health of their visitors, volunteers and employees, the Association took all appropriate measures and has already stopped the operation of Red Umbrella Athens in Omonia and the examinations at the “Syn Athena” Home of the Municipality of Athens.

But, the same day, in the framework of the emergency plan for the care of homeless and psychoactive substance users, the Municipality of Athens held a meeting with organizations active in the field of prevention and harm reduction of vulnerable groups. The Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice”, the Association of Liver Patients “Prometheus“, OKANA, KETHEA, Praksis, STEPS and Doctors of the World were invited and attended.

The agreements that were unanimously accepted are oriented to the following actions:

  • Minimize the transmission of the virus to the vulnerable population, through continuous information, wide distribution of sanitary and pure injectable material and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services.
  • Adoption of measures aimed at reducing the consequences of the transmission of the virus

Since then, the street work of the associations “Positive Voice” and “Prometheus” has been carrying out actions to support vulnerable groups through the provision of food, safe use synergies and protective equipment (such as gloves and condoms).

In particular, to date they have reached 434 people and have distributed more than:

  • 200 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 2,882 condoms
  • 110 servings of food
  • 464 snacks (toast / sandwich / croissant)
  • 208 juices and water

The Anti-Narcotics Agency (OKANA) has contributed to this effort by distributing sanitary material, safe use synergies and information leaflets.

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, the Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice” and the Association of Patients of Liver of Greece “Prometheus” were hosted on the ANT1 show “Special Report”.

Journalists conducted extensive research discussing the people who live on the streets and the organizations that implement their support programs. Following the appearance of the first case of COVID-19 in a homeless day centre in Piraeus, the show is investigating the safety net of vulnerable groups from the spread of the virus.

As part of the emergency plan of the Municipality of Athens for the care of homeless and users of psychoactive substances, the two associations have undertaken an extraordinary initiative through street work, in order to support vulnerable groups. Users of psychoactive substances, homeless people, sex workers, immigrants and refugees are the target groups of the initiative and their support is provided through the provision of safe use and protective materials (such as gloves, injectable material and condoms).

In his interview, the President of the Association “Prometheus”, George Kalamitsis, among other things, noted that things have not changed enough today. “What has changed is that some of our fellow citizens are more afraid. There is fear either for the pandemic, or because there are too many police in central Athens at the moment. The reasons are obvious, but they are scary. As for the hospitality structures and the supervision of the people who live in them, we need services that can be adapted to the needs of the people.

At the same time, Nikos Fitsialos, head of the street work team, added that “general attention needs to be paid to the people who are outside, especially now that citizens who are in solidarity are not circulating and will share a portion of food or a conversation. People lack communication. We notice that people want to talk to us, they ask us and they need it. Not necessarily to learn information about the coronary artery, but to have a human contact.

In the interview, the Municipality of Athens highlighted the need to minimize the transmission of the pandemic to vulnerable populations, through continuous information, wide distribution of medical supplies and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services. In addition, Nikitas Kanakis from Doctors of the World added that “the homeless today are under the radar of epidemiological surveillance and are people who do not have the ability, not only to protect themselves but also do not have the right to individual responsibility.

The action of the street work team takes place three times a week, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and is implemented mainly in Omonia, Exarchia, Syggrou Avenue in Metaxourgeio and on Panepistimiou (Nomiki), Kavala, Iasonos, and Patision (ASOE) streets. . After careful consideration of the growing needs, it is necessary to expand working hours and days, something that will happen very soon.

Positive Voice also published advice for Greek citizens that have been stranded abroad and those that are not a Greek citizen and have been stranded in Greece on the procedure for accessing antiretroviral treatment.

For more information about activities in Greece, you can contact Positive Voice.

Too bad politics and prejudice keep getting in the way

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

DPNSEE Board member Marios Atzemis contributed to the article

“We know how to end AIDS”, published by Politico

Greece was never known for the quality of its health system. But in 2009, at least among drug users, HIV was not a major threat – just 15 were diagnosed with the virus that year.

Then came the financial crisis and the harsh austerity that followed. In 2011, another 256 drug users learned they had HIV. In 2012, the number was 484. The reason for the explosion: the Greek financial crisis and the harsh austerity measures that followed.

Marios Atzemis was one of the Greek drug users diagnosed with HIV in 2011. He had been addicted to heroin and a regular in Athens’ open-air drug markets well before the crisis. Then in 2010, street services to help drug users stay safe lost a third of their funding. Atzemis stopped seeing the vans that used to distribute fresh syringes, even as new users were entering the scene, shooting newer, cheaper drugs.

As a community of drug users, we didn’t have an effective means of defense,” said Atzemis, now a harm-reduction coordinator with the Association of People Living with HIV Greece Positive Voice) “It was very easy for us to be targeted and to be scapegoats.”

The doctor refused to put him on anti-AIDS antiretroviral medication until he got clean at a rehab clinic – even though the clinic was on the brink of being shut down for lack of funding.

For Atzemis, now 44, this was enough motivation to wean himself off the drugs. “It didn’t work the same for other people,” he said.

For better or worse, Greece shows that a country doesn’t need to fix its entire health system to deal with HIV. As a case in point, its progress on AIDS hasn’t translated into progress on correlated problems like hepatitis C. Those rates rose during the debt crisis and haven’t ebbed much; based on 2017 data, around 62 percent of drug users in Greece have tested positive for hepatitis C.

The crisis-era HIV outbreak marked “the first time that all the stakeholders – NGOs, state structures, every single one – worked together to face this epidemic,” said Atzemis. “And probably the last time.”

To read full article, follow this link>>>

14 September – Sex Worker Pride day

Today is Sex Worker Pride day, a day for sex worker community to celebrate their achievements and share stories of sex workers’ self-determination while honouring the tireless efforts of colleagues everywhere to secure rights and safety for all sex workers. It is an opportunity to celebrate and share stories of sex workers’ self-determination and the achievements of the sex worker rights movement.

After its introduction by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), the Sex Worker Pride day becomes the fourth annual key date of the sex workers rights movement. Globally sex workers face many challenges in day to day life. They are being marginalised, stigmatised and stripped from their rights. Their voices are often ignored but they never stop pursuing the rights they desperately need. The sex workers rights movement is powerful with a vibrant and diverse community that has drive and compassion that’s too big to be stopped by the difficulties they are facing.

Sex Worker Pride extends to all marginalised by criminalisation, discrimination and stigma across the sex worker movement and celebrates the diversity within our community during International Sex Worker Pride.

To mark the first Sex Worker Pride day, our colleagues from the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN), a sex worker-led regional network in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia publishes its Annual Report that shows SWAN’s work in diverse areas in order to achieve our objectives as laid out in our Strategic Plan 2018-2022. We join our members, colleagues and allies in celebrating our never ending passion for creating a better world for sex workers.

This annual report is available in English and Russian.

In Greece, the phrase “Take care of each other” continues to inspire the team of Red Umbrella Athens. A new initiative of the Day Centre and the DPNSEE member organisation Positive Voice Roadmap is the “Before You Enter, Put In” campaign. This is an attempt to sensitize sex studio clients to avoid taking photos or videos in their respective locations without the consent of the people working there. As part of Red Umbrella Athens team visits to sex studios, this issue has often been communicated as a major problem that disrupts their functioning.

 

Organisation STAR-STAR from North Macedonia, the First Sex Workers Collective in the Balkans, released a video to mark the Sex Worker Pride day.

Women in Drug Use: Deafening silence

In Greece, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign was this year dedicated to women who use psychoactive substances, the silent group that has no voice or face in the country, but suffers from stigmatization and marginalization and is hard-pressed by serious problems in addition to its usual usage.

On the occasion of Global Day of Action of the campaign, the member organizations of the NGO Platform for Psychoactive Substances (Peer-to-Peer Users Network of Psychoactive Substances, Diogenis Policy Dialogue on Drugs, Positive Voice, Centre for Life, Prometheus, Steps and PRAKSIS) organised an event dedicated to women using psychoactive substances. They invited guests to talk about them, name them and open the road together to find realistic solutions, listening to the stories of the women themselves as well as the experiences of professionals in the field. The event was held on 27 June at the Beatniks Road Bar in Athens.

Women have the right to enjoy rights and fundamental freedoms, without discrimination, in all areas of life. These rights also apply to women who use psychoactive substances.

The multiple identities that women using drugs experience – pregnant, mothers, workers, migrant, refugees, sex workers, trafficked persons, victims of physical violence, prisoners – reflect the particular needs associated with the experience of social stigma, financial situation, insufficient social support, family relationships, a substance-mate partner, children and treatment. Services for women using psychoactive substances should take into account these particular needs of this vulnerable population and be hospitable, non-critical, supportive and, of course, provide emotional safety.

A “Rights Guide” for women using psychoactive substances which highlights the above was presented at the event.

Homophobic attack at Checkpoint in Athens

The building that houses checkpoint managed by our member organisation Positive Voice in the centre of Athens was the target of an attack with obvious homophobic motives at dawn on Monday, 11 March. The fire broke out on the first floor of the structure located in Monastiraki quarter and caused extensive material damage. However, the early intervention of the fire brigade prevented its spread to the upper floors, as well as to adjacent buildings in an extremely densely populated area.

Luckily, there were no people in the structure because volunteers of Positive Voice had left the building at 12:30 in the evening to implement the club’s external action and the attack took place about an hour and a half later.

According to the fire service, the attackers came from the balcony on the first floor and caused the fire by throwing gasoline. They threw the rainbow flag from the façade, revealing so the homophobic characteristics of the attack.

The Checkpoint as a Positive Voice initiative and AHF Europe, have conducted over 100,000 free tests and diagnosed about 30% of new HIV cases each year in Greece. The confidence of society and vulnerable groups in this effort and the international recognition of its success is due to the fact that it is as high as the value of health, dignity, equality and respect for human rights.

Through the operation of Checkpoint, Positive Voice are leading the elimination of discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices that push entire social groups into the margins and threaten social cohesion. In this way, they serve health by focusing on human beings, regardless of gender expression, identity, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, social status, religion and financial status.

The attack will not prevent Positive Voice from fulfilling their Mission nor stop its operation for a moment. Recipients of our services will be temporarily admitted to the mobile unit that is parked outside the building.

Positive Voice calls on all social partners, public bodies, institutions, civil society organizations, businesses and every citizen to raise their rainbow flag on their buildings as a symbolic response against such intimidation.

DPNSEE and it members fully support our colleagues and stand with them!

Survey of drug users mapping in the centre of Athens

DPNSEE member organisations from Greece Prometheus and Positive Voice have developed a study on the anthropogeography of users of psychoactive substances in the centre of Athens in September 2018 using a sample of 200 people. The survey collected information on demographics and living conditions of users, type of psychoactive substance they use and whether or not they joined the retirement or substitution program.

According to the findings of the study, 80% of users are male. The average age is on an upward trend compared to 2010 (33.7) and 2012 (37) – currently it is 38 years. 53% of the sample are primary school graduates, while in terms of nationality there is an increase in the number of foreigners (from 13% in 2012 to 34.5%).

In the residence area in the centre of Athens, the largest concentration of population is located in the areas of Vathis Square, Karaiskakis Square the Theatre Square and the University campus. Regarding the type of psychoactive substance, the highest rate is 63.5% heroin use, while cocaine use accounts for 44.5% of the sample, 14% for Tai, 16% for benzodiazepines and 15% for shisha.

Out of the 200 people, 116 have been included, even once during their lifetime, in a drug rehabilitation or substitution program. However, at the time of the survey, only 49 people were enrolled in a program. The majority of the sample (130 persons) is not in a program or have applied for it.

In conclusion, it is noted that the population of psychoactive drug users in the centre of Athens is “aging“, while the association of the particular population with a high risk of premature death is questioned. Also, high users’ time in the centre of Athens, coupled with the increased rate of homelessness, raises serious issues of personal and public health and user safety. The findings of this study are consistent with the results of the Aristotel’s HCV/HIV study and demonstrate the need for harm reduction policies such as the re-opening of the medically supervised areas and the immediate increase in free distribution of safe use in cooperation with organizations active in the field.

To summarize, the findings of the study highlight the issue by demonstrating that the problems associated with the drug use in the centre of Athens are perpetuated, increased and differentiated at rates that require immediate and effective action.

The study was conducted in collaboration with a working group under the scientific responsibility of Mr. Giorgos Kalamitsis, President of Hellenic Patients’ Association Prometheus, Minerva Melpomeni Malliori, Professor of Psychiatry, First Psychiatric Clinic of Athens University, Eginiteio Hospital and Vana Sypsa, Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Laboratory of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics of the Medical School of the University of Athens and courtesy of the Athens Trade Association and the Union of Hoteliers of Attica and Argos Oasaronic.

To view the original article follow this link>>>>

DPNSEE working visit to Greece

Members of the DPNSEE board, Ana Lybenova and Vlatko Dekov visited Athens from 28 to 30 November 2018. Aim of the visit was to meet with major stakeholders in the field of drug policy and obtain information about the situation, problems and viewpoints of civil society and government actors. It was the final visit to the countries of the region in the process that started in July 2016.

Lybenova and Dekov visited DPNSEE member organizations from Greece Positive voiceDiogenis and Centre for Life. The host of this working visit were: Marios Atzemis, the DPNSEE board member and member of Positive voice and Nikos Stergiou from Diogenis.

During the three – day delegation visit, DPNSEE board members visited CheckPoint Athens, Kethea Needle exchange service, Red Umbrella Athens, National EMCDDA Focal Point, NGO STEPS, NGO Praksis and activists at the mobile unit for HIV & HCV rapid tests.

Based on the general information that were collected on this visit, the main problems were identified for the possible areas for advocacy of DPNSEE network.

To see the full report from this visit follow this link >>>

We are all POSITIVE!

On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2018, the Greek Association of People Living with HIV Positive Voice and the Onassis Foundation organized a series of interpersonal activities “I am Positive” promoting human stories related to HIV/AIDS on 21 and 22 November 2018 at The Onassis Stegi Cultural Centre in Athens.

Children and adolescents had the opportunity to chat with representatives of the seropositive community on sexual health, but also about the challenges and prejudices they face and the stigma that accompanies these groups through their stories, hopes and fears, the reality that HIV-positive people in Greece face and the medical and social dimension of the disease. A serodifferent couple, a mother whose son lives with HIV and a gay claiming his right to prophylactic treatment PrEP shared with the public their thoughts and experiences.

The debate was co-ordinated by journalist Elena Akrita.

To view the original article, including video recordings of personal testimonies, follow this link>>>>