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Mar 18, 2020

Not a pretty letter

My name is Sasha, I am a social worker at Nochlezhka.

Before I started writing this newsletter, I had had to write another letter, a more formal and less pleasant one. This was the letter I am going to take tomorrow to the district branch of the General Administration for Migration Issues, to ask them to speed up the paperwork for Grigory, who we have been working with over the last several months. His health will largely depend on the results of my
visit tomorrow.

The problem is that Grigory has no papers. None whatsoever. In the early nineties he fled the war which had broken out in Abkhazia and bought a flat in Russia but never actually applied for Russian citizenship. Therefore, he is still considered a national of the USSR, a country which has long ceased to exist. Grigory lost his flat back in the late nineties and since then, while he was healthy enough, has been renting and working unofficially. He tried getting the Russian nationality in the early 2000s but with not success. Over the last few months he has started suffering from varicose veins which means that he is constantly in pain and can no longer work. This condition requires a surgical treatment, which he can get either through the mandatory health insurance or by paying. He can’t afford the operation, and getting the health insurance requires some ID or another. Therefore, Grigory is in danger of becoming homeless, unemployed, with no money or ID, and with a debilitating illness. But Grigory and I are doing everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Over the last few months, together with Nochlezhka’s lawyers we have been sending letters, requests and applications, seeing government officials and public servants get the paperwork done faster or provide him with the necessary treatment without the insurance. I really hope that tomorrow we will finally get it done.

Grigory is not my only client, I have 25 other ones. Each of them can reply on me thanks to your support. And I would like to sincerely thank you for that!

Dec 17, 2019

Tangerines and canned meat

It feels like in the runup to Christmas and New Year time starts flying even faster than usual. So many new things turn up and so many unfinished jobs remind of themselves. There’s a certain December rhythm to that, which you can feel once you stop for a couple of minutes. I hope that this newsletter will let you set all your important things aside for a moment, make yourself comfortable and read some warming news from Nochlezhka.

On 2 December we started our annual campaign collecting New Year presents for the homeless in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It means that until 22 December we will be collecting foodstuffs and clothes which help people survive on the street. But the most amazing thing about this campaign, which we lovingly call ‘Tangerines and canned meat’, is that it is not so much about clothes and food but about caring and empathy. I am mesmerized by the idea that every year people go shopping not only to buy presents for their friends and family but also to pick torches and tins, fill up bags with chocolates and sweets for total strangers. Such a simple and clear Christmas miracle of support and solidarity. 

I also want to share a story with you. It is about a man whom Nochlezhka’s social workers managed to help in just three weeks. It is not even about timeframes here, social assistance should never be boiled down to timeframes. Sometimes it takes years of sending applications and going to institutions to get an ID re-issued, and sometimes it only takes a few weeks for a person to get both a job and a place to live.

Nicola moved into Nochlezhka’s shelter on 23 October. We only had one vacancy at the time and even that one was temporary. One of our residents had been hospitalized, so Nicola took his bed. The man came to us with several injuries: he had four broken ribs and a fractured shoulder blade. He had previously spent several days at a hospital and was discharged with a recommendation to remain under care of a doctor at his local clinic. No one explained what someone with no home and therefore no ‘local’ clinic was meant to do. And then Nicola came to Nochlezhka.

He spent three weeks in our rehabilitation shelter. During this time, he received the treatment he needed. Together with the Bilet Domoy [Ticket home] project we bought him the necessary medications and an arm sling. Nochlezhka’s social workers helped Nicola collect all necessary papers and get examined by doctors to be admitted to a night shelter. At this night shelter Nicola was offered the position of a street sweeper. Which meant not only a job and an opportunity to make some money but also the right to stay at the night shelter during daytime.

This and many other stories were only possible because you support us.

Oct 16, 2019

Fight homelessness, not homeless

Today’s letter will be rather sad, I’m afraid. I will tell you about an attack on a group of homeless people in Moscow and share the story of a woman living in our Shelter.

We found out that some homeless clients of another charity, ‘Doctor Liza’, were assaulted from an article published by our colleagues, a platform called Takie Dela. They quoated an employee of the charity reporting that a group of homeless people who were queuing for some food and clothes were approached by a few men wearing camouflage uniforms and breathing masks. They told the homeless people to ‘clear off’ and than sprayed some gas into their faces. Several people suffered burns as a result. 

This can only be qualified as a crime. As my colleague, Dasha Baibakova, the head of Nochlezhka’s branch in Moscow, very accurately pointed out, ‘the state policy of dealing with homelessness is not providing assistance to these people but responding to complaints from people who for one reason or another find the homeless disturbing or uncomfortable. Therefore many homeless people see this social patrol as an oppressive organisation’. 

The only consolation I found in this atrocious story is the way people reacted to the news. Again and again I read Nochlezhka’s followers’ comments where they say that this is unacceptable and attacking anyone, regardless of their behaviour, looks and emotions they evoke, is simply wrong. Because it is homelessness that they need to fight and not the homeless. While people who have ended up on the streets require assistance.

Elmira is 71 and she is currently sleeping at our Night shelter.

Elmira is one of the 221 people who have used our Night Shelter since we opened it. And she’s one of tens of thousands of homeless people who need help.

17 years ago, her husband and son died in a car crash. She went through deep depression and spent almost a year in hospital, then lived in Canada for three years and moved to St. Petersburg.

The woman has to beg now to buy something to eat. It’s nigh on impossible to find a job in her age. Every night she comes to our Night Shelter near Obukhovo and speaks with great warmth of the people who help her.

Elmira is one of the four people portrayed in an article by The Village.They all tell their story and how they came to Nochlezhka. These stories are very different and they evoke very different feelings, from sympathy to puzzlement. And still, I think these interviews show how many ways can lead to homelessness and how unexpectedly one can find himself on the street.

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