Night Shelter • ночлежка (Nochlezhka) • Russia

Nochlezhka supports the homeless, and people without residence registration, with shelter, food, orientation, and integrated humanitarian aid to enhance their opportunities.

Saint Petersburg, Russia  
Website
Source: Nochlezhka’s Website

Nochlezhka supports homeless people and people without residence registration with shelter, food, orientation, and integrated humanitarian aid to enhance their opportunities.

Context

Surviving in modern cities is a great challenge. For many people who migrate to cities with hopes of improving their economic condition, it is not easy to rent or even maintain a house when work is precarious and inconsistent. Such difficulties, coupled with conflicting family relationships, addictions, or lack of preparation, are why Saint Petersburg, Russia alone has a homeless population of between 30,000 and 60,000 people. A city that, by the way, suffers from extreme climates for much of the year.

In addition to this, an important sector of the population, even if it is not in a street situation, still lacks a residence permit for having migrated to the city without going through the proper channels. 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 citizenship rights are linked to the residence permit each person has. For this reason, thousands of migrants without a residence permit in cities like Saint Petersburg or Moscow lack the right to work, vote, receive medical treatment, pension payments, social benefits, etc.

Source: Nochlezhka’s Website

Nochlezhka’s Proposal

Nochlezhka Homeless Center offers comprehensive support to the homeless and those without a residence permit in Saint Petersburg from the moment they come to ask for help, until it is decided together with them that the problem has been solved.

The Centre has a team of social workers who receive them with an interview. Together they define the person’s problem and discuss specific objectives that each party must achieve to solve it. After agreeing on the rehabilitation plan, the social worker puts it into the consideration of the organization’s lawyer and psychologist, and, if necessary, makes adjustments to the plan in future sessions with the beneficiary. This procedure is what makes Nochlezhka unique. Other shelters (including state shelters) tend to give a maximum of 2 or 3 months of refuge to homeless people, regardless of whether they improved their situation or not. Instead, Nochlezhka seeks to solve each person’s problems at the root. The type of support the centre offers is defined through a dialogue with the person, and depends upon his specific situation and needs. The goal: to ensure he can survive in decent conditions and successfully reintegrate into society.

Nochlezhka’s comprehensive care for the homeless and those without residence registration includes:

  • accommodation
  • psychological consultations
  • links 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. This includes an ID that Nochlezhka itself invented and that is already validated by many institutions, certifying the person to be homeless. Another ID certifies those that have disabilities.
  • showers
  • first aid, medical support, or advice to process the documents necessary to access public medical services. Thanks to Nochlezhka, people without Saint Petersburg residence registration have been able to receive compulsory medical insurance since 2011.
  • clean clothes and personal hygiene products
  • free laundry.
Photo by: Emilia Szekely

The shelter has five rooms for 52 people in total, and a space that functions as a toy library, library and internet cafe.

Aware of the special needs of people belonging to groups such as the LGBT community, the shelter connects LGBT visitors 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 began to help 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. For a long time Nochlezhka worked underground: in the Soviet Union citizens could be fined or even sent to prison if they did not work. Of course, at that time the State was supposed to guarantee employment. At present, even though other public shelters have been established, Nochlezhka continues its work. This is because it seeks to solve the root of these people’s problems, instead of giving only palliative care.

Nochlezhka also organizes a night bus that distributes warm food through the city from Monday to Friday with the help of volunteers.

During the cold season, the organization requests the support of the city government to install Heat Tents in high-traffic public places not only 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.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

Trans-generational impact

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 also 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 advocacy that has granted people a temporary homeless registration allowing them to get a job and receive social benefits.
  • The promotion of special government polling stations which allow unregistered citizens to realize their political rights.
  • The organization’s membership in the European Federation of National Organizations that work with the Homeless (FEANTSA www.feantsa.org/en), 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.
  • Educational campaigns carried out by volunteers in streets and universities about the conditions of the homeless and those without residence registration.
  • The invention and promotion of the Day of the Homeless in Russia to give visibility to the problem and the initiative of the organization.
  • Promoting the elaboration of a “Law of prevention of homelessness in Saint Petersburg” that regulates care to these populations at the legislative level.
  • The fight against fraudulent transactions of real estate companies.

In addition, the organization has two ambitious projects that seek to reintegrate its beneficiaries into society:

The first is a cafe that employs some of the homeless it serves. Nochlezhka is currently learning from other organizations how it can put this project into practice.

The initiative also collaborates with the Hilton Hotel chain on a vocational education project. The chain supports Nochlezhka’s beneficiaries with scholarships, so that they can 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 are given the chance to work full time with them. The pilot program has run for about a year (in 2019), with homeless people selected by social workers by meeting an appropriate profile. If the pilot works, Nochlezhka plans to open similar schemes in other fields.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

In addition to the Tourism College, other collaborators support (pro bono) the teaching of skills. And more over, Nochlezhka subsidizes the beneficiaries to take some other courses at other institutions like, for example, on industrial mountaineering.

Currently, between 500 and 600 people receive assistance from one or more of Nochlezhka’s programs every day (see here).

Financing

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).
  • Online Donations 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 who organize charity activities, such as concerts or talks. They also offer workshops; free legal, medical and psychological consultations; social support and accompaniments; help in the distribution of support at delivery points (the shelter, night bus or heated tents, for example); and undertake social awareness campaigns.
  • Corporate volunteers, that is, partner organizations or companies that support Nochlezhka in different ways, such as:
    • The Express Help fundraising network. This network consists of various cafes, bars and restaurants. On one day of the year they organize fundraising activities and donate the money collected (from the sell of 1 or 2 of their products, for example) to Nocklezhka. In fact, other types of businesses have joined this campaign, such as the supermarket chain Lenta, which displays various products during the Day of the Homeless that people can donate directly to the shelter. Or the Hard Coin Barber Shop, which offers free haircuts and shaves one day a year. In return Nochlezhka advertises these businesses.
    • Through collaboration agreements with other social organizations. One such agreement is with Spasibo, which collects used clothing and channels part of its collection to Nochlezhka, in addition to supporting it with financing. Nochlezhka in turn channels donations to Spasibo from the clothing it receives. Or Nochlezhzka’s agreement with Pratchka.com, a company that supports it by providing free laundry services to the homeless and people in need.
  • Street donation campaigns and donation collection boxes.
  • Collection of gifts in the days before Christmas.
Photo by: Emilia Szekely

To promote such contributions, Nochlezhka holds an annual party to celebrate the initiative’s birthday. It invites its collaborators to thank them and communicate the impact of their contributions. To maintain such communication and transparency with supporters, the organization has personnel specifically in charge of receiving interested parties and guiding them on the work of the organization.

Escalation

The success of the shelter led it to consider steps needed to ensure the sustainability of its initiative. It decided to expand its impact through two strategies:

  • Establish a research project to refine its model and share its experience with the government and other shelters. They have done this by giving seminars and preparing free personalized manuals to guide organizations in the implementation of its model. Nochlezhka also launched an online system in 2018 to assist staff from other organizations in registering and tracking cases, and to guide them in how to comprehensively support the homeless and the unregistered. Now several organizations in St. Petersburg and in other cities have followed Nochlezhka’s initiative by installing Heat Tents.
  • Opening branches in various areas of St. Petersburg and one in Moscow, where the government estimates there are a minimum of 15,000 homeless people  (although some organizations maintain that the number is much higher). The Moscow expansion project faced difficulties due to the opposition of residents near the proposed shelter. Now (2019), with 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 should 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. A headquarters in Moscow will also help to increase its capacity for publicity, visibility and impact at the political and legal level in the country’s capital. This will aid its work for the homeless and those without residence registration in the future, by improving the conditions that lead them to that condition in the first place.
Source: Nochlezhka’s Website