Report on Russian CSOs’ pandemic-related projects
A helping hand: how have CSOs (NGOs) supported those in difficult situations? The ASI has produced a report on the ‘pandemic’ projects of various CSOs. Several of them were presented at the International Online Conference People Focus
Help on the street
On the streets of Chelyabinsk the project A Different Medicine has been providing first aid and sanitation products to the homeless since 2017.
At the end of 2020, the project opened their own centre for Medical and Preventative Care for homeless people (the city provided the premises for free). The centre offers medical appointments, dressings and testing for COVID-19.
One of the project’s main achievements is making the vaccination against Coronavirus available to the homeless. They were able to attend the centre voluntarily and even bring friends along to be vaccinated.
Organisations working with the homeless in Moscow have also increased their outreach. Volunteers from the House of Friends have increased their shifts and Nochlezhka have opened a night bus project in Moscow.
The International Conference People Focus: Models and practices for those in need is part of a wider project which, with the support of the Presidential Grants Fund, is being implemented by the Centre for Social, Cultural and Educational Services.
The conference focussed on the availability of social and psychological support for those most affected by the pandemic or in turn by its consequences: the homeless, people in need, elderly people and migrants.
The conference was attended by both Russian and foreign experts from five different countries and 30 regions of Russia, research scientists and those from the CSO sector.
In 2020, the St Petersburg foundation Diakonia announced the creation of a social transport service Social Patrol for those with limited mobility. The team consists of a driver and social worker. The service can be called by an organisation, by citizens or by homeless people.
If a request for assistance comes from an organisation, the route is drawn up by the organisation themselves. Social patrol will then take the homeless person to where they will receive assistance: social, medical, legal etc.
If the request is from citizens, Social Patrol’s social worker will determine what assistance is needed and how the service can offer help. In 2020, Social Patrol made 465 visits.
The service is asking for help from government agencies, humanitarian aid projects, shelters and non-profit organisations.
At the Caritas charitable foundation centre, case managers are responsible for the direction of individual homeless people. They assess their needs and draw up a plan of individual development, which essentially connects the homeless person to the establishment.
Case managers select organisations where a person can get help, help the homeless with specialists and monitor their living situation.
A roof over your head
In the midst of the pandemic it became obvious that there was not enough help available and organisations began to take people off the streets.
“The pandemic turned out to be a litmus test that revealed a huge injustice towards those members of society most in need. The most striking manifestation was the #STAYHOME slogan, which seemed to be a cruel mockery of those without a roof over their heads,” says Natalya Markova, coordinator of the foundation Friends of the Community of Saint Egidius.
In Moscow, House of Friends began to rent hostels and housing for the homeless. The project was named Shelter and by August 2020 more than 4000 people had received a place to stay.
The hostels were primarily used by those who found themselves in difficult situations, including the homeless and migrants. They were provided with food and weekly medical examinations. In one of the shelters an observation team found that 212 people living there had coronavirus.
After a decline in the infection rate, the project was closed and Shelter 2.0 was opened which began permanent. At the end of March, Day Watch was opened: a project in which psychologists, doctors, administrators and social workers worked in tandem with the homeless. And despite the pandemic and the resistance of local residents, the Nochlezhka Consulting Service was also opened in Moscow in 2020. There were also plans for an orphanage to be opened but the approval od documentation lead to delays.
“In some ways the pandemic has brought people closer to properly understanding the problem of homelessness. The pandemic showed everyone that sudden, unpredicted circumstances could arise and individuals could do very little about them. This is the same in the case of homelessness,” says Daria Baibakova, director of Moscow’s Nochlezhka.
Products and important items
In Moscow the pandemic has clearly exacerbated poverty. There are noticeably more people in need of food and clothing assistance. The foundation for Friends of the Community of Saint Egidius opened a humanitarian aid point for those in difficult situations, including the homeless, elderly and migrants.
No proof or documentation is needed in order to obtain help. The organisation takes the stance that if a person comes to their centre for free clothes, it is proof enough that they are in need of help.
The aid point also offers assistance to those who have lost touch with the routines and rituals of society: those who have not celebrated a birthday for years, haven’t kept an appointment and who have lost their social ties and communication skills.
The material items for those in need are provided by the Second Wind Foundation.
“A very important trend that has manifested over the past year is the move towards solidarity and unification, towards mutual support. Mutual support and working together leads to great results and the kind of assistance that simply cannot be provided when working alone,” says Kira Smirnova, Executive Director of the All Together Association.
During the pandemic, the Union of Volunteer organisations launched the project We are here: Volunteer help at home. Volunteers visit lonely elderly people and bring them essential food and household goods.
Since September 2020, volunteers have been visiting the elderly on an ongoing basis, coming several times a week to help with housework and to simply take a walk together. Creators of the project believe this is a new stage in social volunteering.