Former refugee hostel Welcommon facing closure

The hostel is run by a co-op, which is now crowdfunding to avoid eviction

A hostel that used to provide accommodation for refugees arriving in Athens is facing closure. First opened in 2016, Welcommon is currently run as a sustainable tourism hostel by social co-operative Wind of Renewal (Anemos Ananeosis).

In Greece, social co-operatives are social enterprises, which include employee members. Around 60% of employees are members of Wind of Renewal.

The hostel initially housed refugees with funding from the Municipality of Athens and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Between October 2016 and February 2018, it accommodated 600 refugees – including pregnant women and newborn babies – from 22 countries.

However, with UNHCR cutting funding in 2018 to focus on housing refugees in individual apartments, the hostel found itself in financial difficulty, and Wind of Renewal opened it to tourists.

The hostel reopened in June 2018 after the building was renovated and is now part of the LE MAT Network for the promotion of sustainable tourism. It provides accommodation for socially, culturally and environmentally active tourists during their stay in Athens.

The building has a total capacity of 139 beds. It includes a kitchen, a bar, a conference room and other common areas. With the support of volunteers, the hostel continued to offer language classes and other activities for refugee children to help create relationships between newcomers and local people. Other activities included cooking classes, gardening and visits to parks and museums.

But running the hostel and managing the programmes proved to be too costly for the co-op, which is now looking for funding to avoid eviction. The hostel’s low traffic levels also impacted Wind of Renewal’s ability to run ensure the project is financially sustainable.

Nikos Chrysogelos, president of Wind of Renewal and one of the founders of the project, says that so far the co-op has invested €450,000 (£400,000) in renovation work – using its own funds, as well as financial assistance from members and friends in the form of personal loans without interest. Covering the hotel’s expenses and social projects cost another €200,000 (£178,383) resulting in a deficit of €142,530 (£127,124) for the first year of activity.

“We hope that from the second year we will be able to pay back the loans and sustain the operation of the hostel,” he said. “Meanwhile, we have the problem of financing all our needs. Our priorities are the salaries and pensions of our staff, but if we don’t pay the rent of the building on time, we will have severe problems.”

The building belongs to a Greek private company, which is entitled to start legal action if rent has not been paid for one month.

The co-op has received a €25,000 (£22,297) loan from a co-operative bank in Greece and a €50,000 (£44,595) loan from a Belgian bank. However, it needs an additional €70,000 (£62,434) to pay the current costs for sustaining the operation of the hostel.

It has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the funding needed. So far, the campaign has raised only €355 (£316), with 20 days to go.