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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Urged to Help Shivering Homeless

An international relief agency on Friday likened the cold snap that has gripped Moscow to a war and appealed to the city government to do more to assist the homeless.

About 270 of the 304 people who have frozen to death in the city's streets this winter were homeless, according to city health officials.

"The losses are comparable to a military conflict, but there is no war," said Alexei Nikiforov, coordinator of the homeless program for Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Nikiforov said the city needs to open more shelters to protect tens of thousands of homeless from frostbite and death. In the meantime, he suggested that some metro stations be kept open at night for the homeless.

MSF estimates that there are up to 100,000 homeless in the capital of 10 million people. City Hall puts the number at 32,000 to 33,000.

Moscow currently operates 12 homeless shelters with beds for 1,600 people. Some 300 beds remained vacant Friday, said Konstantin Kazantsev, director of the Lyublino shelter in southern Moscow.

In a step to reach out to the homeless, Moscow has ordered city-run shelters to take in anyone seeking a warm place for the night, even those without identification papers. The shelters usually turn away those without papers, and the MSF said about 60 percent of the city's homeless lack them.

Nikiforov said few homeless people were aware of the city order on shelters. He said MSF will distribute thousands of flyers informing the homeless of the few services that are available to them.

Meanwhile, the Moscow health committee has ordered ambulance dispatchers to make hypothermia calls a priority, and the police have been instructed to remove from the streets those who drunk or otherwise incapacitated to prevent them from freezing to death or suffering frostbite.

Some homeless said they were skeptical that the police would be looking out for them.

"I am sure they will help ... with their truncheons," said Vadim, 43, who was seeking cold medicine Friday at MSF's clinic for the homeless near the Ulitsa 1905 Goda metro station.

Another homeless man, Vasily Chizhikov, 51, said the police always kick him out onto the street when he tries to go into metro and train stations to warm up.

Temperatures have been hovering between minus 15 and minus 25 degrees Celsius for the past two weeks. Temperatures are expected to rise to minus 5 degrees on Monday and then dip to minus 10 by the end of the week.