Homelessness and Social Displacement in Russia


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Presentation given by Dr Svetlana Stephenson, London Metropolitan University, UK at a FEANTSA Research Conference on "Homelessness and Poverty", Paris, France, 2009

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Homelessness and Social Displacement in Russia

  1. 1. Homelessness in RussiaResearch Conference on Homelessness Paris 18 September 2009 Dr. Svetlana Stephenson
  2. 2. Homelessness and poverty• homeless people as ‘undeserving’ poor (Morris, 1993)• ‘disreputable’ poor (Matza ,1966)• displaced poor ‘An agent’s position in social space is expressed in the site of physical space where the agent is situated (which means, for example, that anyone said to be “without home or hearth” or “homeless” is virtually without social existence)’ (Bourdieu, 1999, p.124)’ Their main fault seems to be that they are situated outside territorial communities, and this displacement also almost universally signifies their transgression of moral boundaries.
  3. 3. The key causes of homelessness in Russia The re-emergence of mass homelessness in Russia in the 1990s-2000s is linked to• economic and forced migration – the growing problem of undocumented residents (Russian migrants and so called gastarbeitery), having to keep alive either by dependence on their legally established relatives or by working in the streets• marketisation of housing• erosion of enterprise based social systems
  4. 4. Erosion of enterprise-based social systems• Vast social welfare functions of state enterprises• Reform of social protection entailed a relegation of responsibilities for housing by the enterprises to the municipal authorities• Enterprises provided a locus for all types of relationship associated with close-knit communities – be they neighbour, kin or friendship ties.• Having lost corporate economic and social support and lacking access to state welfare, unskilled and poor individuals became vulnerable to homelessness
  5. 5. 2005-6 survey of homeless people• Average length of homelessness is 7 years• 80% men• 24% secondary education• 66% vocational education• 9% primary education• 1% uneducated• 96% are Russian citizens• The majority are aged between 25 and 45 years
  6. 6. 2005-6 survey of homeless people 436 interviewees in 7 regions • 38% family causes • 19% property fraud • 11% were discharged from prison • 11% were evicted • 10% sold their housing • 3% voluntary homeless • 2% care-leavers
  7. 7. Displacement and re-placementdisplaced people try to exercise their own‘re-placement’ strategies – by moving toperipheral spaces of the country, switchingon to the informal economic markets anddeveloping their own webs of personalrelations and ties
  8. 8. Conditions leading to long-term poverty and exclusion• low/unpredictable earnings from street activities;• a risk of physical violence• health risks• legal obstacles to employment and re-housing• harassment and persecution by the agents of social control• lack of access to facilities of rehabilitation.• low degree of social cohesion within the street community
  9. 9. 2005-6 survey of homeless people• 61,1% of the homeless people experienced physical violence since becoming homeless.• Only 60% of homeless people had daily access to hot food• About a half of the interviewees tried to get housing and registration without result• Over one third did not even try due to a lack of funds, documents or a lack of hope
  10. 10. • Current economic crisis has led to an increase in the numbers of “new “ homeless.• St.Petersburg’s ‘Nochlezhka’ reports that the number of new clients in the first three months of 2009 increased 30% compared to the same period in 2008. Most of these people have no money to rent their housing after having lost their jobs.
  11. 11. Changes in social protection legislationThe Law ‘On the foundations of socialservices for the population in the RussianFederation’ of 15 November 1995 :people without fixed abode, together withother groups in a ‘difficult life situation’ areentitled to support from social protectionbodies (such as placement in temporaryshelters, residential homes and materialassistance).
  12. 12. Lack of facilities• According to the Ministry of the Interior data of 2002, there were 4 mln street homeless people in Russia, and 6 mln “hidden” homeless• There are about seventy special social assistance institutions for people without fixed abode, with 8,000 places. The city of Moscow now has twelve night shelters with a total of 1,600 places• In St.Petersburg there are 300 hostel places for 10,000 street homeless people
  13. 13. Residential rights = social, economic and political rightsUnregistered individuals have major obstacles with obtaining• legal employment• civil and political rights• access to social benefits• non-emergency health care• access to housing (including homeless shelters!)
  14. 14. The experience of the unsolved threat of poverty The newly prominent visibility of experiences of poverty and social displacement can produce different effects:• the undermining of the citizenship of those who are marginalised and criminalised;• or, conversely, a new awareness of citizenship rights as part of the need for more comprehensive social cohesion.
  15. 15. Poverty as a perceived cause of social disintegration‘The most destitute and hopeless segmentof the homeless people…beg, rummagethrough rubbish, steal, become carriers ofinfectious diseases and originators of fires,create moral discomfort for the membersof the public. ‘ (Homelessness, theRussian Social Encyclopaedia)
  16. 16. Poverty as the cause of crime“Because of their dirty, ragged clothes and shoes thebomzhi are expelled from public places and they have toroam the streets looking for night shelter. This leads tofrequent aggression, violation of public order, comingtogether with similar bomzhi in cellars, undergroundwater pipes, dug-outs and dachas. Bomzhiunconsciously develop spontaneous protest against theirnon-acceptance by society and this leads to muggings,vandalism and more serious deviations.”(Zavialov and Spiridonova, 2000, p.69).
  17. 17. Repressive re-placement“These people need help and not prohibitivemeasures. Naturally, they influence thecriminogenic situation, but mostly they affect thesanitary–epidemiological condition of the city.Unkempt sight, specific smell, and of courseMuscovites and visitors do not like encounteringlice. That is why the militia removes thiscategory. This removal mainly aims to providesocial and medical help in co-operation withother agencies and not to repress. He is not alaw-breaker, he is a citizen, but he needs help”(police officer, Moscow)