In some 40 countries, street papers have witnessed the consequences of the economic downturn since 2008. Street papers help to give a voice to those caught up in the ravages of the recession. Here, we highlight some of the stories which reveal the human cost behind the endless statistics
By Chris Alefantis
Leon, 64, has been living in the Klimaka emergency shelter in Athens since October. After studying and working in the travel business and as an English teacher, he decided to make his living from his art in 1994. He is entitled to collect his pension when he turns 65 next year and hopes that it will be enough to allow him to rent a home.
'Things went quite well for a while. Business was good, as I quickly built up a sound customer base. There was, in fact, a two-year period, [from] 2003 to 2004 [when Athens hosted the Olympic Games] when business was excellent. It lasted until 2009, when all of a sudden, things started to change as the economic crisis crept in. In 2010, the number of orders I received was halved. By 2011, my business was virtually decimated. My debts piled up — I could no longer afford to pay my rent and I knew I was fast approaching a dead end. One night last September, I got a knock on my door. It was my landlord with the eviction notice. I was expecting his visit the next morning but I had not bothered to pack up my stuff.
In my first days of rough sleeping, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of relief. For the very first time — for as long as I could remember — I did not have to worry about money, debtors and other obligations -
My son is 30 years old. When he found out that I was homeless, he rushed to my help. He gave me money and he found me a bed in the Klimaka homeless shelter. He did the best he could. He comes to see me quite regularly, actually.
I know that he would take me home if he could, but he is living with my ex-wife and she would want to hear about it-
But I have lived a wonderful life. I have travelled all around the world. As a matter of fact, I have made more trips than a pensioner-to-be can ever plan or dream of. I had a great group of friends that I used to go out with, to tavernas, cafes, cinemas, you name it. I would do all the things that any ordinary person would do. I am an optimistic homeless person. I know I will be back.
By Adam Horvath
Linda is 31. She lives in Budapest with her husband and 18-month-old son.
'Because of the global economic crisis, we are on the way to going bankrupt – and maybe homeless. At the present time, we can – just barely – pay the bills, and we always have some food on the table, but soon we will have to decide which one is more important.
We, and every family I know, are all getting poorer by the day.
Before the recession, we had perspectives and goals we thought were attainable. We thought we had safe jobs and salaries. We didn't understand a lot about international finances and we believed everything was all right.
We didn't know a lot about Swiss franc-based loans — everybody said they were safe. So when banks offered us such loans, which were more than 40% cheaper then forint-based loans, we accepted.
We believed the bank's advertisements, which said the loans were going to solve our problems — they were cheaper than renting a flat. Such loans were offered from 2006 until the summer of 2008, for homes and even new cars.
We signed the contract with the bank and accepted the interest-rate risk and currency risk, along with a few hundred other incomprehensible points of the 40-page contract. We bought an apartment for 17 million forints [£47,000] over a 20-year payback period. The bank told us verbally that only a 10% to 20% increase was possible, but we soon realised this was not the case.
The bank's initial monthly fee of 120,000 forints doubled because of a weak Hungarian currency and a strong Swiss one.
In early 2009, my husband's salary became less because the Hungarian part of a multinational company where he worked "had to cut costs". We could stand it for a while, but our son was born and I could no longer work.
We have slowly drawn on all of our savings to pay the bank fees. We are unable to sell our apartment because hardly anyone has the money to buy it. Housing prices are going down, while the loan — calculated in francs — is drastically escalating.
Now our loan amounts to 25 million forints. Yet if we are unable to make the monthly payments, the bank will sell our home to a vulture in an auction for about 13 million forints, and we will still owe the remaining 12 million!
My husband tries to act tough, work hard and do extra jobs on the side — but I see how the colour of his hair changes from brown to grey.
In the worst-case scenario, our family can fortunately move to the country, to live with my parents, but there are absolutely no jobs there.
Every day we hear about evictions. More and more people have to move to the streets. It's completely hopeless – the crisis is only getting worse.
By Sofia da Palma Rodrigues
Paulo Lis, 45, and Ana Lis, 42 returned to Portugal in 2011 because of Ana's health after living in England, where Paulo ran a successful restoration company.
'It was difficult to leave England, but as we had saved some money — almost €80,000 — when we arrived at Baixa da Banheira, a small village near Lisbon where our family lives, I did not realise what a nightmare it would be. After six months of trying, I got a job in a car factory where I earned €700 per month. I had to do extra hours if I wanted to eat, pay the rent and the bills.
Ana couldn't find a job, so she began doing a two-year professional beautician course. She finished this past September, but she only makes €140 a month.
But the worst hadn't arrived yet. This January, I lost my job and we are now living on my wife's income. I've asked for the unemployment subsidy I deserve, and the social security department always says we'll receive it as soon as possible — but the truth is that in the meantime we need to eat.
We are only eating because my mother and grandmother help us, and the owner of our apartment told us to pay the rent when we can — and because I am a man who never gives up. I'm always trying to find some small jobs that will pay me €100 or €200 for electricity, water and so on ...
What do we expect of the future? I hope to have the opportunity to set up a restoration company in Portugal that has as much success as I did in England. I have never lost hope but all the things I once dreamed about are now completely impossible.
By Andrea Rottini
Moustapha, 37, moved from his native Senegal to Italy to find work.
'When I started out as a vendor selling the street paper, Terre di Mezzo, in Italy, sales were going well. I had hoped to make enough money to set money aside and send it home to my family back home.
However, now the financial crisis is everywhere and we can see that by just standing on the street. It's not easy — now I can only manage to take care of myself.
The only important thing, I always say, is not to stay locked up at home. I always try to keep myself busy. Earning a few euros by selling papers on the street is something at least. If I find a job that's OK for me, I'll take it, as long as it pays enough for me to have a dignified life. The important thing is to not waste time.
Terre di Mezzo has always allowed me to live a dignified life: this work has helped me and other immigrants to move forward. We street vendors can really thank Terre di Mezzo and citizens who, even in difficult times, have always lent us a hand. It's not an easy job. The first thing you have to do is try to integrate and learn the language, because otherwise it is difficult to meet people.
I've always been a positive person. I never complain. As I say to my clients, who stop on the street in Milan city centre, we can't complain.
The [economic] situation is the same in Italy, Spain, France and all over the world. As long as I've got my health, I must never complain — I think things can change in a moment anyway.
By Laura Smith
After becoming unemployed, Adrianna saw no future for herself or her family in Romania. With her husband, Aurel, and two teenage sons, she travelled to Scotland in search of work.
'Initially, I came to the UK to join Aurel without my children, Alexander and Gabriel, as I didn't want to take them out of school. School is everything in Romania – if you don't have a good education you are nothing.
We have been living in Scotland for almost three years now and we are still struggling.
After eight months I missed my children like crazy and wanted to go back home to them. They were staying with my father-in-law in Socodor. By this time we were living in a two-bedroom flat in Glasgow and we could barely afford the rent, so I started doing the odd bit of cleaning for a man my landlord knew. His wife had left him and she had taken his two daughters with her. He was crazy about his daughters.
On my second day working for him, he asked me about my family and I started to cry. I explained to him that I could not afford the £300 it would take to bring them to Scotland. Later he was at the computer and called me over. There on the screen were the booked flights. He had bought the tickets for me. That is how I brought my children here. It was so generous, I still can't believe it. I had only known him for two days.
After I brought my children here we got them into the high school right beside our flat where we lived for one year. We applied for child benefit which we received for three or four months. But it took six months for me to get my national insurance number because of an error at the Jobcentre and then we were refused tax credits. At this time, we were behind in our rent and had to leave the flat.
I went to the housing association and said: "I have two children and nowhere to go – I will sleep outside on the street until you give me something."
In the end we got this flat in Govan. It is just one bedroom so, with me, my husband and two children, it is quite cramped. We are working but we are in debt and it feels like I'm sinking in quicksand. It doesn't matter what I do: I feel like I'm going down and down and down. We came here with big dreams but they are fading fast.
By Andrew Purcell
Francis Mateo is 29 years old and worked at a furniture shop in Brooklyn until he lost his job. He is now in The Hope Program for the unemployed.
'one day the boss came and told us the bad news, which was that he was going to have to start cutting people, because ends weren't meeting. He fired two people before me. Two months later I went by and there was a sign – "going out of business" – and only one person working in the store.
I tried to get all sort of jobs, but businesses are looking for more than what regular people have: people who have more certificates, are more qualified. I've been trying to do sales, clerical, maintenance and mechanics. In 2010, I worked in a call centre, telemarketing, where they pay you on commission. But nobody was buying. Times are hard.My wife Naja has two kids and I have two kids of my own. We all share a one-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights.
We've been struggling. I've been doing off-the-book jobs, demolishing apartments, manual labour. One time I was even in the street with a bucket, washing cars. We would open a pump and I would wash a car, make a little money.
My kids need to eat. They've got to have clothes. I've got to do something. I tried to get help from family members but they are in the same position we are in. A friend of mine said: "I'm making my money. It's on you" and gave me a pack of drugs. I was selling everything: crack, heroin, pills, all kinds of weed.
They caught me. I'm due in court. It's not that I want to sell drugs. I'm here so that The Hope Program can help me.
Right now I will do anything. It doesn't matter what it is. If you're going to pay me for polishing shoes, please pay me because I will polish your shoes. As long as I don't have to do anything wrong, don't have to steal, sell drugs or be on the street. At this point my family needs me.
I don't blame the recession on anybody. But somebody's sitting in an office bigger than the apartment that I live in, with bank accounts full of millions of dollars, and they are making bad decisions for us. There are people out here starving because they can't afford a slice of pizza.
By Samantha Bailie
Liam O'Connor*, 46, returned to Dublin in 2010 after working as a manager in a printing firm in Boston, US
'When I got back to Dublin I got a job in printing again. We were thriving as we had contracts for election posters and it seemed that things were settled. How wrong could I be? As the recession took its toll we lost the contracts for the election posters as well as other printing jobs we had, mainly to firms in eastern Europe. My boss called us all in one day and said we would be starting a three-day week.
I think a lot of us considered ourselves lucky, as by that stage we were hearing of people losing their jobs altogether. About nine months later my boss said that he could let us work five days a week, but we'd need to take a 30% pay cut. I was happy with that deal, anything to be out of the house and doing something constructive. I also felt I was helping to keep the company alive. I was wrong. A few months later we were told it was closing.
This came at the worst possible time as Sineád, a girl I'd met in the States, was coming to Ireland so we could get married. Not the best start to married life, but we headed up to the dole office because I needed something to live on. Because Sineád gets a military pension, they cut my dole in half. To top that off, Sineád had no luck finding a job in Ireland. Eventually she had to take a job caring for the elderly which, to be honest, wasn't what she had planned to do.
I spent my days filling in job applications while taking care of the house. Every application I filled in was unsuccessful. I couldn't even get a job in a supermarket. It got to the stage where Sineád was sick of it. Even in her sleep she was agitated and restless and then she just said: 'I can't take it any more. I can't live like this, worrying where the next money will come from and having a husband out of work.' Then she left.
Unless you can tell me that the recession will end tomorrow and there will be jobs for us all, and we won't have financial worries, I don't think things will work out. Everything gets to you when you are down. When you've no money, everything that can go wrong will. We even lost the flat we were living in, because the landlord didn't want any social payments. I think he liked things under the radar, if you get my meaning. It's just a hopeless situation.
*Name changed to protect identity