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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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* 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 suspicious over social enterprise,” Reuters, 25 October 2015