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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Unveils Plan to Get Homeless Off Streets

In a new effort to remove the homeless from Moscow's streets and train stations, the city government has announced a multifaceted attempt to collect, house and employ the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people now huddled from the cold in basements, alcoves and walkways.


This plan, in contrast to earlier anti-vagrancy campaigns that amounted to little more than one-way train tickets beyond the city limits, aims to combine the forces of city housing, employment, law enforcement and social service agencies.


"The idea behind this is to unite the work of several departments so there is some sort of encompassing program," Natalya Terkina, of the city's social security department, said Wednesday. "We've gotten behind this issue very actively."


Previous attempts to clear the city of street dwellers and railway station vagrants have been sporadic, and usually consisted of herding homeless men and women onto suburban trains and sending them off into the distance. Campaigns were always mounted on the eve of big holidays or before the arrival of important foreign delegations. would come from were not provided.


The city's departments of employment, housing and health care are also to get involved with one of the primary goals of any homeless person -- a Moscow residence permit, without which almost all social services and employment opportunities are off limits.


In addition, the city wants to begin to serve more effectively the large number of homeless men and women who have recently returned to civilian life after prison. Terkina estimates that up to 40 percent of Moscow's homeless are former prisoners who have lost their residency rights and are now seeking to return to former lives.


"This is a category of person that comes to the social security committee to seek some sort of path back to life," Terkina said.


For now, however, the proposed regional dormitories are a long way off, Terkina said. Work has begun on one complex of apartment buildings in the city's southeast region that Terkina hopes to have ready this year. "We're working on the repairs right now," she said.


Outside MSF's free medical clinic, Oleg Pechkurov, 46, was eager for information on how he could take advantage of the program, but was careful not to get his hopes too high.


"They've promised us this so many times and not done anything," said Pechkurov, a former actor from Siberia who has been among Moscow's homeless for four years. "If this is a serious proposal, then we would welcome it."


But with the proper facilities still lacking, the new homeless initiative will begin where it has always begun, with the local police rounding people up from train stations, metro stops and underground walkways and keeping them in Interior Ministry holding tanks. That has Perivier thinking skeptically as well.


"They are going to try to do something nice socially, to try to get them documents, passports, and to try to get them a roof and give them a job," she said. "But if they are going to use force to gather them from the street, the militia will do it and it will be quite violent."


Nikolai Sulimanov, also at the MSF medical point Wednesday afternoon, explained the police's approach to the homeless by pointing a finger at the dark blue swelling under his left eye.


"This organization is much more humanitarian than the police," said Sulimanov, 35, and homeless since 1988.


Statistics on Moscow's homeless, a problem which officially did not exist during Soviet times, are hard to come by. Terkina said she didn't have any; the 250,000 to 300,000 estimate comes from the city police department.


In New York City, with about 8 million people compared to Moscow's 9 million, there are between 70,000 and 90,000 homeless, said Michael Harris of New York's Coalition for the Homeless.


Siobhan Keegan, medical director for MSF, said the majority of Moscow's homeless, are between 25 and 45 years of age and are 80 percent male. About 70 percent, she said, are Russian while 30 percent are from former republics. MSF treats about 2,500 people every month.


Alexei Nikiforov, a doctor at MSF's medical office, personally treated 731 people in September. For the same month in 1994, he treated 453.


"Hospitals take the homeless, but if the patient doesn't need hospitalization, we're the only place he can turn to," he said.