Paul Goble: Russia Now has as Many as Five Million Homeless People, Experts and Activists Say

Staunton, February 9 – The Russian government says there are only 64,000 homeless people in that country, but experts and activists say that the real number may be as high as five million – or more than one in every 30 residents – as a result of family conflicts, fraud, hard times, and an increasingly frayed social safety net. Grigory Sverdlin, who directs the Night Refuge organization in St. Petersburg which provides meals and a place to stay for those without housing in the northern capital says that he believes there are from 1.3 to 1.5 million homeless in Russia (в-россии-до-5-млн-бездомных-но-власти-их-не-замечают). But other specialists and political figures say the number is even greater. Sergey Mironov, the leader of the Just Russia fraction in the Duma puts the figure at three to five million ( In reality, no one really knows how

many are suffering from the lack of housing there. According to Sverdlin, it would be possible to produce a number approaching 80 percent of the total if Moscow were to direct local governments to collect data and then assemble it. But unfortunately, he says, the powers that be are more interested in hiding these figures than in compiling them and forcing people to face the problem. In St. Petersburg, he says, there are 50,000 to 60,000 homeless now, and in Moscow, there are two to three times more. Moscow activists like Tatyana Konstantinova put the number in the current capital at about 60,000 and say that the authorities understate that figure by at least 40,000. Russia’s homeless face all problems the homeless are confronted by elsewhere – lack of food and medical care among them. But they also face even greater difficulties in climbing back into regular society: Overwhelmingly, employers will not take on anyone who is not officially registered at an address, something the homeless by definition are now. Gella Litvintseva of EurasiaNet notes that “there is still no complex government program to assist the homeless in Russia,” adding that “the help which the state does provide at present is insufficient.” For example, for the 60,000 homeless in St. Petersburg, there are only 270 beds in places where they can spend the night. Russian society with its limited resources is trying to fill the gap: there are some 200 groups across the country who are engaged in helping the homeless. Most are volunteers who provide food, but spaces for the homeless to sleep out of the weather are few and far between, Litvintseva says. For the situation to get better, Sverdlin says, the authorities must first admit the size of the problem and then come up with well-financed new programs. Neither step appears likely in the current environment. As a result, millions of Russians will suffer; and millions more will live in fear of falling into the category of the homeless as economic conditions get worse. 10.02.2019 source: window on eurasia

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