Moscow’s indefinite coronavirus lockdown has left the city’s vulnerable homeless population with an impossible choice — find shelter or risk paying steep fines, while facing the danger of becoming infected with a potentially deadly disease.
In many European countries, where the coronavirus has hit hard, spaces including hotels, office buildings and gymnasiums have been converted into isolation shelters for the homeless. No such measures have been taken in Russia, where anti-homeless stigma is strong — and with parks, shopping centers and train stations closed and volunteers staying home, Moscow’s homeless have few options for finding shelter and basic necessities.
“The homeless have no way to self-isolate,” Daria Baybakova, the head of the Moscow branch of the Nochlezhka NGO, which operates a network of shelters in St. Petersburg and the capital, told The Moscow Times.
Official statistics for Russia’s homeless population are patchy, with data from the most recent census in 2010 placing the number of people living on the streets nationwide at 65,000. Nochlezhka — or “Overnight Stay” — says the number is closer to 1 million, with the number of homeless in Moscow alone at about 80,000.
That number has only increased since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Baybakova said, and there are far too few places in shelters to accommodate them all.