Initiative that supports homeless people and people without residence registration with shelter, food, orientation, and integrated humanitarian aid to enhance their opportunities. Saint Petersburg, Russia Website
Nochlezhka supports homeless people and people without residence registration with shelter, food, orientation, and integrated humanitarian aid to enhance their opportunities.
Surviving in modern metropolises is a great challenge. For many people who migrate to cities with the aspiration to improve their economic conditions, it is not easy to rent a house, much less maintain it with timely payments when working conditions are precarious and inconsistent. These economic difficulties, perhaps coupled with conflicting family relationships, addictions, or lack of preparation, are just some of the reasons why between 30 and 60 thousand people (depending on the source) are homeless, only in the city of Saint Petersburg, in Russia. A city that, by the way, suffers from extreme climates for much of the year. Furthermore, there is an important sector of the population of these cities that, even if it is not in a street situation, lacks what is known as a “residence permit” for having migrated irregularly. Unlike other countries in which people enjoy their civil and political rights for the simple fact of having the citizenship of their country of origin, in Russia these rights are linked to the residence permit that each person has. For this reason, thousands of migrants who do not have a residence permit in the city of Saint Petersburg or Moscow, for example, lack rights such as working, receiving medical treatment, pensions, social benefits, voting, etc.
Nochlezhka Homeless Center offers comprehensive support to the homeless and people without a residence permit in Saint Petersburg from the moment they come to ask for help to solve a problem, until it is decided together with them that this problem has been solved. For this, it has a team of social workers who receive them with an interview and define with them the problem and concrete objectives that each party must meet to solve it. After agreeing on this rehabilitation plan, the social worker puts it to the consideration of both the organization’s lawyer and psychologist, and if necessary makes adjustments in future sessions with the beneficiary. This procedure is what makes Nochlezhka unique, because unlike other shelters, including state shelters, which give a maximum of 2 or 3 months of refuge to homeless people, regardless of whether they improved their situation or not, Nochlezhka seeks solving at the root the problems of the person. Therefore, the type of support is defined in dialogue with it, according to its specific situation and needs, so that it ensures its survival in decent conditions and can successfully reintegrate into society, which is the main mission of this initiative.
Nochlezhka’s comprehensive care for the homeless and people without residence registration includes, as the case may be:
- psychological consultations
- link with employers
- legal assistance to process documents and identifications so that they can receive social benefits, be admitted to care centers for vulnerable groups, and even find their relatives and return to their homes — including an ID that certifies the status of “homeless” that Nochlezhka has invented and is already validated by many institutions, and another that certifies people with disabilities.
- first aid medical support, or advice to process the documents necessary to access public medical services — thanks to Nochlezhka since 2011 people without residence registration in Saint Petersburg can receive compulsory medical insurance.
- clean clothes and personal hygiene products
- free laundry
The shelter has 5 rooms for 52 people in total and a space that functions as a toy library, library and internet café. Aware of the special needs of people belonging to groups such as the LGBT community, the shelter connects them with non-governmental organizations dedicated to these populations. It also has a separate sleeping area to serve people with alcohol and addiction problems through its Halfway Home Program.
Nochlezhka is a non-governmental, non-religious organization, managed by around 50 lawyers, social workers and psychologists, at its venues in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
The initiative was launched in 1990 by a group of volunteers who started helping people who did not have the stamp that was then required on the card to obtain food. Back then there were no public shelters or charitable organizations. Nochlezhka worked for a long time against the current (underground) because in the Soviet Union a person could be fined and even sent to prison if it did not work (of course, at that time the State guaranteed employment). Now that there are already public shelters, Nochlezhka decides to continue existing because, unlike these, the help it offers seeks to solve the problem of people from its roots, and not only by giving temporary palliatives.
In addition to the shelter, Nochlezhka has organized a Night Bus that distributes warm food throughout the city from Monday to Friday with the help of volunteers.
Furthermore, in the cold season, the organization requests the support of the city government to install Heat Tents in high-traffic public places to serve more people, but also to give visibility to the problem. Although, for the same reason, negotiations with the local government are not exactly simple (the government does not like to show this face of the city), they generally reach an agreement thanks to the fact that the organization gives public credit to the government’s participation in Nochlezhka’s initiative.
Knowing that it is important to attack the problem of the homeless and the unregistered from the root, Nochlezhka not only tries to address the problems of its beneficiaries in a comprehensive way, but works to increase its influence on decision makers and legislation. In this sense, it has made great contributions, such as:
- the identity cards for the disabled and the homeless mentioned above. In addition to the successful advocacy so that State shelters grant a temporary registration to the homeless that allows them to get a job and receive social benefits.
- the also successful promotion of the government opening special poll stations so that the unregistered people of Saint Petersburg and Moscow can realize their political rights.
- the organization’s membership in the European Federation of National Organizations that work with the Homeless (FEANTSA), its collaboration with the United Nations in the preparation of reports on civil rights in Russia, and its participation in various national and international conferences.
- the educational campaign of social awareness about the conditions of the homeless and those without residence registration carried out by volunteers in the streets and universities.
- the invention and promotion of the Day of the Homeless in Russia to give visibility to the problem and the initiative of the organization.
- the successful promotion of the elaboration of a “Law of prevention of homelessness in Saint Petersburg” that regulates the attention to these populations at the legislative level.
- the fight against fraudulent transactions of real estate companies.
In addition, the organization has two ambitious projects underway that seek to reintegrate these people into society:
The first is a café where it tries to employ some of the homeless it serves. Nochlezhka is currently learning from other organizations how it can put this project into practice. But in addition, the initiative is collaborating with the Hilton hotel chain on a vocational education project. The chain is supporting them with scholarships so that the homeless learn professional skills at the tourism college with whom Nochlezhka also has a collaboration agreement. When the homeless finish their studies paid for by Hilton hotels, they give them the opportunity to work with them.
The pilot program has been running for about a year (in 2019) with homeless people selected by social workers for meeting the appropriate profile. If the pilot works, the plan is to extend it to other similar opportunities. In addition to the Tourism College, collaborators (pro bono) support the teaching of skills. And in addition, Nochlezhka finances some extra courses (like industrial mountaineering!), taught by various institutions (that is, it subsidizes the beneficiaries).
Currently, between 500 and 600 people receive assistance from one or more of Nochlezhka’s programs every day (2018 Report).
Nochlezhka’s financial sustainability is the result of a complex funding and contribution program that includes:
- Subsidies and public funds (only occasionally because they tend to be very bureaucratic and limited).
- Donations online through their web page.
- Personal Sponsors – In 2018, for example, 50 people participated in the White Nights Marathon to collect funds for the organization.
- Private donations of hygiene products, food, etc.
- Donations from businesses, governments and national and international foundations.
- Volunteers. These organize charity activities (such as concerts or talks), offer workshops, free legal, medical and psychological consultations, social support and accompaniments, help in the distribution of supports at delivery points (the shelter, the Night Bus or the Heat Tents for example), and undertake social awareness campaigns.
- Corporate volunteers, that is, partner organizations or companies that contribute with Nochlezhka in different and ingenious ways, such as:
- Through the Express help fundraising network, an activity that has been negotiated for a long time with various cafes, bars and restaurants, where one day of each year they organize fundraising activities (concerts, donations, etc.) and deliver to the organization the profits collected from 1 or 2 drinks from their menu that they choose. In fact, other types of businesses have joined this campaign, such as the Lenta Supermarket chain, which selects and displays various products in its stores every year during the Day of the Homeless so that people can buy and donate them directly to the shelter. Or the Hard Coin Barber Shop, which offers free haircuts and shaves one day a year. Nochlezhka in return advertises these businesses.
- Through collaboration agreements with other social organizations. Like Spasibo, which works collecting donations of used clothing, and channels part of them to Nochlezhka, in addition to supporting it with financing. Nochlezhka in turn channels to Spasibo the donations of clothing it receives. Or with companies like Pratchka.com, which supports them by providing free laundry services to homeless and people in need.
- Street donation campaigns and donation collection boxes.
- Collection of gifts days before Christmas.
To promote all these contributions, Nochlezhka organizes a party every year to celebrate the initiative’s birthday, in which it invites all its collaborators to thank them and inform them of the impact of their contributions. In order to maintain this communication and transparency and not lose their support, the organization also has personnel in charge of receiving interested parties and guiding them on the work of the organization.
The success of the shelter made it reflect on the steps to follow to ensure the sustainability of its initiative. The decision was to expand its impact with two strategies:
- Establishing a study and research project to refine its model and share its experience with government and other organizations’ shelters: giving seminars and consulting, and preparing free personalized manuals to guide them in the implementation of its model. In addition, Nochlezhka launched an online system in 2018 to assist colleagues from other organizations in registering and tracking cases, and to guide them on how to support the homeless and the unregistered comprehensively — now several organizations in San Petersburg and other cities have followed Nochlezhka’s initiative by installing Heat Tents.
- Opening branches in various areas of Saint Petersburg and, recently, one in Moscow, where the government estimates a minimum of 15,000 homeless people (although some organizations maintain that the number is much higher). This expansion project to Moscow has suffered serious difficulties because the residents of the area where they originally tried to settle the new shelter violently opposed receiving this population in their neighborhood. Now (2019), the organization has found a new location and with the help of a small staff and a large group of volunteers it is trying it again, starting with activities that it considers will help reduce obstacles to its expansion plan — such as the distribution of food and awareness campaigns for the population. Although several organizations already offer humanitarian aid in Moscow, Nochlezhka believes that its presence will be a good contribution precisely because of its distinctive feature: comprehensive care for the homeless and people without residence registration. In addition, for the initiative, establishing a headquarters in Moscow is a strategy to increase its capacity for promotion, visibility and impact at the political and legal level in the capital of the country. This will certainly facilitate its work for the homeless and those without residence registration in the future, improving the conditions that lead them to that condition in the first place.