Life on the street

City officials are trying to help the homeless, but often people themselves won’t accept this help.

There is a homelessness problem in most of the world’s major cities. Sources indicate that every year the number of homeless people increases. For example, whereas in the late 1980s in the USSR there were 142,000 people with no permanent residence, now there are more than 1.5 million. In Great Britain, according to CNN, in 2018, there were 320,000 people without a house or apartment.

To help people without a roof over their heads, organisations are being set up to help homeless people return to a normal way of life. Oxford has several such services – The Oxford Homeless Medical Fund, Oxford Homeless Pathways and The Gatehouse… Here, people without a roof over their heads can get free food, a bed for the night and be given clothes. The charities are also funded by donations from local residents: donations of food and clothes are accepted, or you can simply transfer money. “We brought things to this centre at Christmas and now we plan to do it regularly. Doing good is not just for holidays”, an Oxford resident posted on Facebook.

There are also homeless people’s centres in Perm: ” Salt of Prikamye”, “Source of Hope” and “New Hope”. Here, as in Britain, people can eat, be given a bed and get legal advice. Charitable organisations are constantly recruiting new volunteers – to provide psychological assistance to people in difficult situations and to distribute hot lunches. “Any one of us could be in the situation these people are in. That’s why we should help them,” said a volunteer at the centre. The statistics about homelessness on Nochlezhka‘s website are confirmation of this. Not all homeless people, as is commonly thought, have ended up on the street because of a drink problem: most of them are homeless because of family issues; some because they came to the big city and can’t find a job, and many are victims of housing fraud. Some lack the strength of character to cope with the realities of modern life. “Because it’s easier that way, you forget about the problems, and you don’t have to think about anything,” explains one of the homeless people about his drinking.

New Hope volunteers say that a year is long enough to become homeless not just in a physical sense, but also mentally. The most difficult thing for a person without permanent housing is to make the decision to return to normal life.

Ed Stafford, the famous British explorer, has once more participated in a high-profile project. For 60 days he lived on the streets of London, Manchester and Glasgow as a homeless person. According to Mr Stafford, many of the homeless people he met preferred to live on the street rather go to a hostel. Some of them in fact had permanent housing and even jobs but earned extra money on the street. The real homeless, as Ed Stafford says, are not in need of money so much as psychological help and help with adaptation. After two months on the street, he decided he would no longer give money to homeless people begging.

Very often homeless people themselves refuse help from such organisations – they are used to living the way they do. “Freedom is what keeps people at the station. I go wherever I want, and I do whatever I want. I don’t owe anybody anything” a former homeless man shared with us. Long-term homeless people always know where and when a vehicle arrives with lunches, where to get clothes for winter and where to spend the night when it’s raining or freezing on the street. “No one makes you work, and there’s food,” the man boasts of his life. Authorities and volunteers confess that sometimes they lose heart. “We create the conditions, and people continue to live on the street. The worst thing is that in winter they risk freezing to death. But even that doesn’t make them go back to a normal way of life”, they complain in Oxford.