Helping the Homeless in Moscow

Global Voices Online
Friday, May 12, 2006

LJ user beth4ever accidentally discovered (online) a group of volunteers feeding the homeless in the Moscow subway and at train stations, and decided to join them. Here's her account (RUS), also posted in the ru_homeless LJ community:

On the homeless.

I found this link and took part in an event last Tuesday. How did it go? I came to Chistye Prudy, found the building and the apartment. There were ten people or so there. Some of the food was ready: bananas, milk in small cartons (with straws), bags with cookies. Then Vika arrived and brought with her bread, cucumbers, dill and sausage. We quickly sliced everything and made sandwiches. We packed each sandwich into a separate little bag. Then we split into groups. Three people per group. The group that went to feed people at the train stations there were two young men and one young woman, in the other two (that went into the subway) there were only young women. I understand that it's not as safe at the train stations.

It took us about an hour. There are not enough people to walk around the neighborhoods [in addition to the subway]. Our route was this: Chistye Prudy, Lubyanka, Taganka, Chistye Prudy (I guess). As Vika explained to me, usually they meet 9-10 people at these stations in an hour. Most of them aren't strangers, but sometimes there are new faces and people from other routes. The names of all those we encountered are entered into a special notebook, for further reference.

We didn't come up to those who, despite looking like beggars, were selling something. Here's why. If a person is trying to earn money, he may get offended if you treat him as a beggar. And [we didn't come up] to those [beggars] who move from car to car. Are we supposed to run after them with our sandwiches? Also makes sense.

But on that Tuesday there weren't many people for some reason: we met only five.

First, there was a very elderly woman, a former teacher at the school for the deaf, if I'm not mistaken. Her memory is very good and in general she makes sense when she talks. She lives in a kommunalka [communal apartment]. According to her, her former colleagues (Ministry of Education is nearby) sometimes pass by and pretend they don't recognize her. Her [apartment] neighbors once dismantled the closet where she stored old textbooks for children, with pictures, etc. They threw them away. And this was a tragedy for her.

Then there was another old lady. A religious one. She took nothing but bananas because she was fasting. Even cookies looked suspect to her, the ingredients. She showed off her new socks, three pairs for 40 rubles ($1.50). Told us church news. Said that she's already saved enough money for her own funeral. And that she was going to start saving on something else, but that was a secret. As we understood it, for something in her church. She is very religious and has turned into a beggar more out of inner necessity. She could've been supported by her daughter and son-in-law.

Then we met a man with a stick. His face looked like it had been cut all over a long time ago. He said he'd leave in an hour because his legs get tired fast.

The last ones that we met was a couple: Queen Elena and Mikhail. Very fun guys. Only they smell bad. Elena - an overweight woman, vivacious. Makes up all kinds of stories. Announced that she saw me walking with foreigners and speaking Italian. Mikhail looks like an intellectual going through some rough times. Double-breasted coat. Reads newspapers, knows the news. In fact, he is most likely an ex-con.

Then we went back. The other group had more luck - they met many people. It'd be nice to organize something similar at Preobrazhenka, I guess. But our homeless (1) sell all kinds of stuff, and (b) hang out in rather big groups, it's be scary to come up to them.

Everyone we met were happy to see us and especially Vika. They remember how each person's doing, are curious about the lives of the movement's participants.

The point of these trips isn't really to feed people, though it is important, too. And if the people ask to get them [over-the-counter medication] or something, the movement's participants can accomplish that. But the real goal is to communicate, to show concern, to help.

Maybe I'll go again, it's not difficult and it's not scary.

Much respect to those who get involved regularly. I'd also recomment the ru_homeless [LJ] community.

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