Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Portrait of Those at the Very Bottom – Moscow’s Homeless

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – At a time when many Russians are suffering from loss of work as a result of the pandemic, sociologists at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University have interviewed more than 700 of the capital’s residents who are at the very bottom of the social pyramid, the homeless, to provide a comprehensive portrait of a group too often ignored.

            Russian officials downplay the problem suggesting that there are fewer than 20,000 in Moscow and only about 70,000 in the country as a whole, but experts say there may be as many five million homeless in Russia (, a number that is likely to rise in the current crisis.

            Led by Darya Oreshina, the team has now released its preliminary findings at  and will be presenting a fuller version at a conference in the Russian capital later this month. Its work has now been summarized by Svetlana Saltanova at

            The typical Moscow homeless individual is “an unmarried Russian man of middle age who came to the capital from a city in the central part of Russia, with a secondary education, and a work history of at least two years.  But there are important variations. For example, while there are few women overall, abut 15 percent of those aged 19 to 30 are female.

            More than 80 percent are unmarried. A third were never married, and almost half are divorced. Only six percent are citizens of other countries, mostly from Ukraine, Belarus, or Uzbekistan.  And only 16 percent were born in Moscow. Most came from smaller cities: only nine percent came from villages.

            Notably 20 percent of the homeless in the Russian capital have higher educations, and overwhelmingly the homeless say they hope to fine work again, 82 percent telling the Oreshina team that.

            The group classifies them into three groups – those who have been homeless for only a few months (53 percent have been that for less than one month), those who cycle back between having a residence and being homeless, and those who have resigned themselves to the status, with each fourth being on the street for ten years or more.

            The first generally maintain ties with their pre-homeless relatives and friends and hope to get work but few of them want to remain in Moscow. The second have fewer contacts, lower expectations, but more attachment to the city.  And the third accept homelessness as their fate and view Moscow as their home.

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