A man walks in a secondhand bookstore run by homeless in the center of Athens, Greece, July 26, 2019. A former homeless man, an initiative, response of hundreds of people, a warehouse in the center of Athens. All the "ingredient" combined, became the first bookstore of pre-owned books run by homeless. (Photo by Lefteris Partsalis/Xinhua)
by Angelos Tsatsis, Natasha Pavlopoulou, Li Xiaopeng
ATHENS, July 27 (Xinhua) -- A former homeless man, an initiative, response of hundreds of people, a warehouse in the center of Athens. All the "ingredient" combined, became the first bookstore of pre-owned books run by homeless.
Not only the bookstore receives books from all over the country and creates new jobs, it's a place of solidarity as well, bringing hope to hundreds of Greeks who lost their jobs and houses.
As a former homeless himself, Leonidas Koursoumis, is the "mastermind" of the whole project. A man in his 70s, Koursoumis had been fired from his previous job, a publishing house, and was not able to pay rent, as a result, he ended up sleeping rough for almost a year.
"At some point I said to myself, I could not do this anymore. I must stand on my own feet, even to my old age," he said.
Koursoumis met two fellow homeless when he was living on the street, who helped him change his life.
"Together we decided to collect books that had been discarded in trashcans and paper recycling bins, and sell them to secondhand bookstores in Athen's flea market, to have a minimum income," Koursoumis told Xinhua.
They agreed then to keep the books they have not sold and ask for people, companies and libraries to donate more books, besides useful items and clothing.
From that moment on, Koursoumis started a new chapter in his life. In January 2019, he made a post on social media, shared later by hundreds of others. Together with the help from Greek newspapers, radio and TV, his story became well known all over the country.
One of the generous fellow citizens offered a warehouse near the center of Athens, where the first bazaar was organized last March.
"I can not tell you exactly how many books there are today. We cannot record them, but in my experience I can estimate that the books available must exceed 25,000 volumes, or maybe more," Koursoumis said.
"We have been proposed to serve lunches for the homeless three times a week, and also to organize workshops to help people without shelter to have an activity and somehow regain their lives," he said, adding that his dream is to create a broader cooperative network for the homeless.
Irene Ioannidou, a professor of Greek language in Berlin, came to support the effort.
"I had been informed about this action through Facebook. The thought of a man with dignity who is keen to remain decent in every situation has moved me very much," Ioannidou told Xinhua.
"It is a lesson of life and that's why we came here today, trying to get as many books as we could," she said.
The number of homeless in Athens had swelled dramatically during the years of financial crisis which started in late 2009.
A survey by the Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs in collaboration with the Panteion University recorded in 2018 a total of 1,645 homeless people, 691 of them were living on the streets, in seven municipalities of Greece.