Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The art of helping Moscow's homeless

Eye-catching arty prints on t-shirts have long carried social messages, but for Moscow’s most unlikely designers the creative process is more than just an empty slogan.

One of Russia’s first homeless shops offers a wide selection of clothes and other items with artwork designed by people living in one of Moscow’s shelters for homeless.

“It helps them to get out of their shells and starts the rehabilitation process,” Marina Perminova, who is in charge of all programs supporting homeless people at Moscow’s branch of charity caritas.

People dip their fingers in paint – the best technique to express their feelings, experts say – at art therapy sessions and create images that later will appear on t-shirts, hoodies, cups, and notebooks.

The work is then sold to raise funds for food, medicine, replacement documents, clothes and other essentials for the city’s homeless, a group Caritas has been helping for 12 years.

“Most of them are men, and it’s actually more common for men to give up when problems become overwhelming,” Perminova said.

The longer someone stays on the street the less are the chances for rehabilitation – but some Caritas clients have managed to find their way back.

“One of our former clients works as a lawyer in the State Duma now,” Perminova said.

“Currently there is another man living in a Moscow shelter who is a professional journalist,” she added.

Mikhail Zhukov used to be an editor at a Moscow-based magazine, then worked as a reporter for a Russian language publication in Israel but shortly after returning his life went downhill.

“He asked us to find a way for him to use his skills, and we invited him to write for our website,” she added.

His articles can be found there together with other information and useful links for those who want to help homeless people.

There is no precise data about the number of people living on the street in Moscow or in the whole country.

About 150 people turn to the Caritas soup kitchen over one night, Perminova said, while more general estimates put the number between 10,000 and 30,000 people, according to Orthodox charity Miloserdiye's web-site.

Muscovites join the ranks of the capital’s homeless people more often, Alexander Muzykantsky, city’s ombudsman, said in his report earlier this year, reported – over the past eight years it has grown from 6 to 14.2 per cent.

Caritas is serving its clients on a year-round basis as although the cold season is not coming anytime soon, problems never stop coming.

“It’s easier to find a place to sleep, but harder to find something to eat [without getting food poisoning],” Perminova said. “The food runs out very quickly.”

And people willing to donate food are urged to choose products that have a long shelf-life.

“Winter is of course the worst season for homeless,”Liza Glinka, head of Spravedlivaya Pomoschich, another charity providing medical treatment to the most disadvantaged patients. “But in summer we are often dealing with dehydration, overheating, intestinal infections,” she added.

Spravedlivaya Pomoshch also collects clothes for homeless but only those items that can be given away immediately.

“We accept seasonal items depending on the weather. We have no warehouse to keep them,” Glinka said.

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