Grigory Sverdlin: This Isn’t Goodbye

Good day, dear friend!

It is very difficult for me to write this letter. I don’t want to say goodbye at all. To my great regret, I was forced to leave Russia and resign as the director of Nochlezhka. Of course, I will help my colleagues remotely as much as I can, but it would be strange to try and run everything from afar. Danya Kramorov, our longtime volunteer, coordinator, and until recently the head of fundraising and PR, will replace me as head of our organization.

Twenty years ago, I came to Nochlezhka myself as a volunteer, and in 2010 I became an employee. Back then it was a lovely and proud little organization. That hasn’t changed, but the scale of our work has. Currently, we are helping 480-490 people in Petersburg and Moscow every day. Together we have opened free showers, laundries, warming-up spots, and rehabilitation shelters. In our approach to helping people in need, we have grown into providing psychological assistance, employment programs, training in new professions, and a dedicated rehabilitation shelter for homeless people suffering from alcohol addiction. Just as twenty years ago, everyone who comes to us for help or provides assistance in any of our current projects is treated like a human being. I’m confident that things will always be like this at Nochlezhka. It is a huge effort by many people, and if you are reading this, you are one of them. I would very much like to list everyone by name, but only last year Nochlezhka was supported by donations from over 20,000 people. Thank you very much!

Nochlezhka’s 2013 This Side of Life campaign hasn’t lost its relevance. Photo courtesy of Nochlezhka

Nochlezhka is much bigger than Grisha Sverdlin. Nochlezhka is my colleagues, a wonderful, professional team of eighty people. Nochlezhka is the hundreds of volunteers from all over the world who respond to our call. Nochlezhka is the thousands of people who donate money and medicines, food and clothes to us, who read our news and don’t believe the stereotypes [about homeless people and homelessness]. Nochlezhka is the companies that provide their services for free. Nochlezhka is you.

With the help of this huge cool team, just last year we helped 8,165 people in need. No matter what happens, this year we will definitely keep all our projects running so that anyone who turns to us can keep their health and dignity and return to a normal life. Moreover, this summer we will be opening a shelter for elderly homeless people in the Leningrad Region, and in late March we will launch the long-awaited restaurant Street Entrance, where the residents of our rehabilitation shelters will master new trades that will enable them to continue getting their lives back together.

I’m terribly sorry that I won’t be at the grand opening. I had planned to spend most of my salary at our restaurant. It’s incredibly cozy and the food is very, very tasty. But  enjoy yourselves there for me, please! And I will wait for the day when we can meet at the bar and discuss the good news.

Nochlezhka will continue to operate even if the earth crashes into the celestial axis. And I will continue to classify myself as a Nochlezhkin, remaining a volunteer and donor of this organization so dear to my heart. Unfortunately, more and more people will need our help in the coming months. And since that is the case, we will continue to help them, of course.

Yours,

Grisha Sverdlin

Source: Nochlezhka email newsletter, 15 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. I was a volunteer at Nochlezhka and its (now defunct) “street newspaper” Na Dne (The Depths) in the mid-nineties. Although I included the original link in Mr. Sverdlin’s letter to Nochlezhka’s donations page, it would seem that people outside Russia can no longer donate money to the organization, as they could only a short time ago. I tried just now to donate 1,000 rubles using a European-issued MasterCard, but the transaction was declined. However, I immediately got a message from Nochlezhka saying that they could see that I had tried to donate but that something had gone wrong on their bank’s end. I write this not by way of soliciting donations for Nochlezhka but to illustrate the difficulties charitable organizations in Russia now find themselves in. And, although he doesn’t mention this in his letter, Mr. Sverdlin has written on social media that he left the country because several reliable sources told him that he was in danger of arrest. ||| TRR

UPDATE (3.15.22) Nochlezhka’s project coordinator has written to me to confirm that, indeed, it is no longer possible to make donations to them using non-Russian bank cards and non-Russian payment systems. She cited the advice to donors that Nochlezhka published on its website earlier today.  The last two paragraphs of that advice read as follows:

Payment via Google Pay, Samsung Pay and Apple Pay has been blocked for Visa and Mastercard cardholders. This means that one-time and regular donations that were issued in this way are no longer valid. Please re-register your donation if it has been made using one of the methods listed. You can manually sign up for a new donation payment using the form on our website.

Currently, bank cards from foreign banks cannot be used to donate money for our work. We are no longer receiving money transferred through Global Giving and PayPal. We will look for new ways [to donate] for anyone who does not have a Russian bank card, and we will definitely inform you as soon as we find them.

Thanksgiving: Petersburg’s Culture Laundromat

Five years ago, Vanya Lendyashov, Nochlezhka’s engineer, sent a letter to David Papaskiri, the owner of Prachka.com, a chain of laundromats. Vanya wrote to ask how best to organize a mobile laundry point, a kind of laundry on wheels where homeless people could get their clothes clean for free. David responded by offering to set up a full-fledged laundromat with washing machines and dryers, just like the ones in his chain, especially for Nochlezhka. He decided to give us the equipment for free—we only had to find a suitable building. Our volunteers joined the search and soon found a space at Borovaya, 116, not far from Nochlezhka’s shelter.

Thus began the story of our Culture Laundromat, which has been running like clockwork for five years. Over the years, three and half thousand people have used the laundromat, whose washers and dryers have run over twenty-seven thousand cycles. The laundromat has helped our patrons to go to interviews in clean clothes and get a job, to feel like normal people, to save money, and to avoid condemnation and hatred.

A video about how the Culture Laundromat is organized, and about the people who come there for help

The project got its name thanks to the famous joke “Hello, is this the laundromat?” Jokes aside, the place really has become not just a laundromat, but a genuine space for culture. During off hours, a theater studio has rehearsed there, volunteers with the Persimmon project have gathered there to knit warm clothes for homeless people, an apartment concert has been staged there, and the Notyetpozner team filmed an episode there featuring Shortparis lead singer Nikolai Komyagin.

 

There are shelves of books at the Culture Laundromat and stacks of newspapers and crosswords. Indoor plants turn green on a whatnot in the back. It’s a great place to wash off the grit and grime of hard, terrible days and put on warm clean clothes before going out the door and continuing the path to home from the streets.

Like all our other projects, the Culture Laundromat operates thanks to the people who support us. Thank you for this anniversary and for every day that Nochlezhka is up and running.

Source: Masha Kalinkina, Nochlezhka email newsletter, 25 November 2021. Photo and videos courtesy of Nochlezhka. You can support Nochlezhka by making a donation (via Visa, Mastercard, Apple Pay, Google Pay or PayPal) here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration

Members of Nochlezhka’s staff in the charity’s courtyard, 2019. Photo courtesy of their website

Court Rules in Favor of Nochlezhka: Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration
Takie Dela
March 30, 2021

On March 30, the St. Petersburg Charter Court upheld the right of homeless people without residence registration [propiska] to access social support from the city. The court recognized that the city government’s current provision, according to which assistance is provided only to people with residence registration, should be abolished. Takie Dela was informed about the ruling by Vitaly Isakov, a lawyer with the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

“Lack of registration is no longer an excuse for turning down a person who wants to register with the welfare agencies and receive benefits. The Charter Court’s decision is generally binding from the moment it was announced, and is not subject to appeal,” Isakov said. “The city government should abolish the regulations that the court found inconsistent with the city’s charter. In particular, they should remove the wording that requires residence registration.”

The lawyer also stressed that in the event of a legal conflict, Petersburg courts would not be able to enforce the current procedure for registering for social benefits, in which providing proof of residence registration is mandatory. “If a homeless person asks to be registered for benefits, but he is refused, he has the right to cite the Charter Court’s decision,” Isakov said.

The homeless charity Nochlezhka filed an appeal with the court in September 2020. The organization noted that among their clients there were those who did not have permanent residence registration in Petersburg. Because of this, they could not obtain the special social welfare registration and count on social benefits from the city.

Nochlezhka said that they had written appeals to city officials and defended the interests of clients in the courts, but had received refusals over the past five years. Subsequently, they decided to submit a request to the Charter Court, which makes sure that the city’s laws and bylaws comply with the city’s charter.

Since only the governor, a group of five legislative assembly deputies, or municipal districts can submit such requests, Nochlezhka turned to Petersburg parliamentarians and found deputies who agreed to sign the request. They also engaged lawyers from the Institute of Law and Public Policy, who drafted the request and, along with Nochlezhka’s lawyers, submitted it to the Charter Court.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Mandatory residence registration, known as propiska, is a relic of the Soviet era that was ruled unconstitutional by Russia’s newly minted Constitutional Court in the mid-1990s.  The ruling, however, sparked fierce resistance from such regional leaders as Yuri Luzhkov, then mayor of Moscow, who claimed that it would provoke widespread “emigration” from rural and poor areas to wealthy cities like his, thus flooding and disabling their social services. The court’s ruling was thus never enforced, meaning that Russians are still obliged to register their domiciles with the authorities, even when renting a flat. Consequently, a person’s ability to do a variety of important things — from applying for a job, a loan or a library card to receiving welfare benefits and getting married — depends on having a propiska in the city or town where they live and thus need to do those things. As a volunteer with Nochlezhka in the 1990s, I saw with my own eyes how the lack of a propiska prevented homeless people from getting help and restarting their lives, especially finding gainful employment and a place to live.

Are Homeless People in Moscow “Foreign Agents”?

nochlezhkaNochlezhka staff outside their shelter on Borovaya Street in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Nochlezhka

“It’s Unpleasant, But It Won’t Affect Our Plans”: Nochlezhka on Calls from Begovoy Residents to Declare the Charity a “Foreign Agent”
Lida Timofeyeva
Takie Dela
November 21, 2019

Zoya Andrianova, a member of Begovoy Municipal District Council in Moscow, has requested that authorities check whether the charity Nochlezhka should be declared a “foreign agent.” She pointed out the organization received foreign funding and had “access to a socially vulnerable, dependent and manipulable segment of the population.”

“We must use all methods of fighting the enemy. Nochlezhka should now lose its appetite for Moscow. It will have to spend a long time explaining itself to Center ‘E.’ If it is closed as a result, that will teach it a lesson,” wrote Alexandra Andreyeva, a member of the Lefortovo Municipal District Council.

Takie Dela asked Nochlezhka’s directors to comment on the actions of the activists who oppose the opening of a shelter and a counseling service for homeless people in Begovoy.

______________________________

Grigory Sverdlin, director of the charity organization Nochlezhka

“Nochlezhka has been receiving foreign funding for many years: it makes up around 15% of our overall budget. The aid mainly comes from religious organizations. We appreciate this and have never hidden these donations: people can check the annual reports on our website. Nochlezhka has never been involved in politics, so the ‘foreign agent’ label does not apply to us. We are not afraid of audits: like all other charitable organizations in Russia, Nochlezhka has been audited repeatedly.

“Andrianova and the group of activists recently sent eleven complaints to federal consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, asking them to check a homeless shelter that does not exist yet. Their attempts to kick Nochlezhka out of their neighborhood, as they put it, have continued, although district councilors from Lefortovo and activists from Savelovo are part of the effort for some reason. It’s unpleasant, of course, but it will not affect our plans in any way.”

______________________________

Darya Baybakova, director of Nochlezhka’s Moscow branch

“The opponents [of the future shelter] are few in number, but they are quite active. There are several municipal district councilors in their ranks, in particular, Alexandra Andreyeva and Zoya Andrianova. Andreyeva believes homeless people should not be helped at all, but instead should be transported beyond the 101st kilometer. Andrianova had said the campaign against Nochlezhka’s project is a personal matter for her. In her opinion, such places should not be opened in the Begovoy district.

“Last week, I was at the prosecutor’s office, answering the questions posed by the same municipal district councilors in their complaints. We also received a warning from Rospotrebnadzor [about the inadmissibility of violating health regulations] after they inspected the building where the shelter will be opened. Andrianova has now sent a complaint to the presidential administration. We have not received any letters from them yet, but we are ready to answer any and all questions when they do arrive.”

______________________________

In September, Nochlezhka announced it was planning to open a consulting service and shelter for homeless people in Moscow’s Begovoy district. The charity looked for a space for a year and a half: it needed to be within walking distance of subway and train stations, but at a distance from residential buildings. Nochlezhka conducted a survey of the district’s residents and held a meeting with them. They were unable to stave off a conflict, however: some of the people who came to the meeting refused to listen to Nochlezhka’s arguments and walked out.

In the aftermath of this wave of discontent, Nochlezhka invited the Muscovites to tour its Petersburg facilities. Petersburg officials reported to the Muscovites that no one had ever complained about Nochlezhka’s clients. Nochlezhka launched an online flash mob to support its Moscow branch: people were asked to post messages with the hashtag #ISupportNochlezhkaInMoscow. The Moscow mayor’s office turned down Nochlezhka’s request to provide it with a space for a homeless shelter.

In 2018, Nochlezhka and the Second Breath Foundation announced plans to open a laundry for homeless people in Moscow. They chose a space near the Dynamo subway station in the Savelovo district for the laundry, but were forced to give up the project after local residents protested. The residents threatened to file complaints with all the relevant authorities and set the laundry on fire.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Anyone Can Become Homeless” (#quietpicket)

serenko-quiet picket-homeless“Anyone can become homeless. #quietpicket.” Photo courtesy of Darja Serenko

Darja Serenko
Facebook
November 23, 2018

#quietpicket

After the war waged by certain activists in a certain neighborhood against Nochlezhka,* after the things they said—”The homeless aren’t people,” “They have themselves to blame: let them croak,” “People are divided into castes, and each caste must live where it belongs”—and in the wake of other manifestations of social fascism, I am traveling today with a simple placard.

I wrote the slogan in all caps.

ANYONE CAN BECOME HOMELESS.

I had a brief chat with a man in the subway this morning.

“What, you pity the homeless?”

“It’s not about pity and not about my feelings, but about the fact that a homeless person needs help and that homelessness is a terrible condition in which a person ends up quite often due to a number of circumstances: he or she was conned, they are old, they were in prison, they grew up in an orphanage, they are in poor health, and so on.”

“They have themselves to blame. This is what they want themselves.”

One aspect of the “they have themselves to blame” argument struck me then. Even if someone is to blame (although we know how often the source of guilt cannot be determined or is hard to find), what of it? Does it push someone beyond the ranks of humanity? Does it strip a person of their right to ask for help? I tried to put this into words. My feelings were riled.

Translated by the Russian Reader. This post is dedicated to the blog’s first donor for believing in me and what I do.

_________________________

* When social entrepreneur Daria Alexeyeva joined forces with a charity to open Moscow’s first free laundry for the homeless, the last thing she expected were accusations of profiteering.

“We thought that we were bringing something (so special) to Moscow that the only reaction would be: ‘Wow, is this really happening here, in Russia?’” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Like any business, social enterprises want to make a profit but they are set apart by using that money to make a difference. The aim, she said, was to help vulnerable people who get little state or public support. But her experience shows the struggle social entrepreneurs can face in a country with scant experience of businesses that expressly set out to do social good.

Alexeyeva’s partner in the project, Nochlezhka charity, had launched a laundry in its home base of St. Petersburg. But in Moscow, the project got off on the wrong foot from the start.

When adverts started to run in August to advertise the laundry’s imminent arrival in an ordinary Moscow district, residents called for a campaign to block it.

In worried Facebook posts, locals feared “dirty,” “contagious” and “antisocial” homeless people would spread tuberculosis, fleas and crime through their neighborhood.

“After washing their clothes, the homeless may come to a children’s playground, and it will become a problem for those who live nearby and their children,” Ivan Polyakov, resident of the Savyolovsky, a quiet residential area in the north of Moscow, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Protests, public arguments, complaints and threats followed.

In September, the confrontation peaked, when one local activist posted an anonymous “investigation” into Alexeyeva’s business, saying she only wanted to open the laundry so she could wash the clothes she sells in her own line of charity shops and so increase her personal profits.

“The only person who needs the laundry is (Alexeyeva),” the post read. “She knows how to count her money. […] Washing her clothes in a charitable laundry is very profitable. If she sells more than one third of it, it’s a gold mine. The homeless are merely there for PR (public relations) and as a cover story.”

Alexeyeva says she would have ignored it if the post had not received several hundreds of shares in one day.

“I started seeing it as a threat and decided to respond,” she said. “It is a weird place to be in, explaining myself after someone ‘exposed’ things I’ve been openly talking about.”

The 29-year-old launched her business in 2014, selling used clothes and donating the profits. The company’s monthly net profit is between 200,000 and 600,000 rubles ($3,000–$9,000).

Half of what the company earned over the past four years went to help the homeless and the poor, among others, and half was spent on developing the business.

[…]

Source: Daria Litvinova, “Laundry for the homeless reveals Russian suspicion over social enterprise,” Reuters, 25 October 2015