It is a really difficult task to determine how many people are homeless in Russia today. The problem is that majority of social and statistical institutions in charge of population accounting in Russia, outpatient departments, house management and local police departments, are restricted within some particular territory. It is quite natural that none of them can provide accurate hobo statistics.
According to various estimates, there are from 1.5 to 4.2 million of hobos in Russia today that makes up about 3 percent of the country’s population. The biggest number of hobos are registered in big cities, in Moscow first of all (about 75,000 people) and St.Petersburg (about 50,000 people).
Alexey Nikiforov, head of Medecins Sans Frontiers’ program on aid to homeless says that recent information shows that about 70 percent of homeless have temporary job which means they can buy food. “This is the reason why they flood big cities which they consider their only survival,” the expert adds.
An overwhelming majority of homeless, 85 percent are men while male hobos make up two thirds of the total number of homeless in the West. This is probably because Russian women basically prefer a settled mode of living to nomadic life.
Today’s Russian hobos are people of different ages but the biggest age group (two thirds of the whole number) consists of hobos between 35 and 55. The older a homeless the harder his life is. People over 40 were brought up in the Soviet era and it is more difficult for them to get adapted to modern realities and struggle for existence than for younger people.
Why do people leave their homes and choose their nomadic lives full of wandering, hunger, cold and diseases?
It is known that from 30 to 50 percent of homeless lost their homes when they got to prison. According to the legislation that existed until the mid-1990s, every person sentenced to imprisonment longer than six months was automatically deprived of his place of residence. The law was abolished in 1995 but many of today’s homeless lost their homes when were taken to prison before abolishment of the law.
Statistics proves that many people became homeless as a result of dirty manipulations with their apartments. About 20 percent of homeless lost their apartments for various reasons.
And another big share of homeless is people who are out in the street because of some family problems. The amount of such people makes up 20 percent now. They in most cases have relatives, ex-husbands or ex-wives, and also children. But the families would not accept people who used to belong to their family as their memory of the conflict are still burning. They do not extend a helping hand to them at all.
It sometimes happens that married men conflict with their wives and in the heat of the conflict divorce and leave the home for nowhere. One fifth of Russia ’s homeless are divorced men who failed to find their place in life. Right after the divorce they believe that being real men they will manage to do everything and need nobody’s help. They officially register their departure from the apartments where they lived together with the families and go to a new place to start their life from the beginning once again. But they are unlikely to be happy in a new place.
Many homeless, about 17 percent of the total amount loose their homes soon after they become jobless. A great part of them used to live in small provincial towns where the deficit in workplaces is often terrible. When they loose job these people often leave homes in search of a new job. Often, these desperate attempts entail lamentable consequences.
It is incredible but there is a still increasing group of hobos who insist that it was their personal choice to become homeless. In 1995, only three percent of homeless said they were in the street of their own will. Today, there are 14 percent of homeless who explain their situation this way. So, it means that every seventh hobo chooses a homeless way of living of his own free will. At least this is how they understand the situation themselves.
Alexey Nikoforov explains that these are basically people with a particular vagabond mentality who live the life of anarchists. But there are just few of them in fact. People invent the explanation as a psychological shield. Leave me alone, it is my own free will to be homeless, they say.
Russian hobos today greatly differ from their foreign ‘colleagues’. In Western Europe , a great number of homeless do not have elementary education while in Russia over half of hobos have elementary education and every fifth homeless even has secondary professional education.
To save the homelessness situation from expanding Russia must take several important actions. First of all, it is necessary to legally recognize the existence of homelessness in Russia . The country needs a legislation to determine the legal status of homeless people. And also, it is important to officially register where hobos live de-facto.
To make social rehabilitation of homeless really effective these people must be given an opportunity to work. But is this social rehabilitation really possible? Homelessness is a grave disease comparable to alcohol addiction where degradation is gradual.
When people find themselves out in the street they at first feel uncomfortable having no shower for a couple of days. But soon they get adapted to the new reality. Experts state that the adaptation happens within the first six months of a homeless life. It is said that if attempts are taken to bring homeless back to the normal way of living within this period they are highly likely to start their lives from very beginning. But there is little chance to make hobos get back to normal life if they spend more and more time in the street.
Translated by Maria Gousseva
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