Mr. Leonidas Koursoumis, the owner of the Secondhand Bookshop Run by Homeless People in Athens, had been homeless for 18 months, living out in the open sky. During this time, he met two other homeless people and they became friends. They were unemployed, so they decided to do something to make a living. They started searching in recycling bins or even on pavements for discarded books and sold them at very low prices to secondhand bookstores in the Monastiraki area. Then, they decided to make their own secondhand book store.
Initially, Mr. Leonidas was just looking to have an income so that he could rent a house and buy food. However, as he had been involved in the book business in the past, it was also a pleasure for him to collect books. He and his two friends started posting about their project on social media and that is how they caught the attention of the media, so some newspapers and websites carried articles about it. That encouraged the public to come and donate books, clothes and other stuff. Later they were given a huge space on Pireos Str. Its owner learned about the project and wanted to help them set it up. Now they have found an even better space on Soutsou Str, where they will move to soon.
The Secondhand Bookstore only employs homeless people. Through this process some of them have found new jobs, which were offered to them by visitors to the bookstore. Mr. Leonidas really helps these people, by giving them the opportunity to have a small income and maybe find a permanent job.
As for Mr. Leonidas himself, the state didn’t help him at all and no one from his family showed up when he was in need. “I had a family. I got divorced. Whatever I did, I did it on my own, no one supported me. I am sorry if this sounds selfish, but I really made it on my own”, Mr Leonidas says. If anything happens to him or he retires, he will pass on the business to his employees.
To begin with they had 2.000 books and now they have around 20.000. They have books in Greek, English, German, French and a few in Italian. They keep every book they find. Each book costs 2 euros.
In their new place they are planning to host book conservation workshops for homeless people. Also, they are planning to offer free lunch for homeless people twice a week, with the help of the taverna next door.
At first I found Mr. Leonidas somewhat intimidating, but when I listened to him, I realised he is very sincere and honest about what he does for homeless people in general and especially for his employees. I think such initiatives are more than positive, because, not only Mr Leonidas, but everyone in the world should care about issues such as homelessness.
Photos by Ihtisham Khan