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13 Jul, 2007 02:35

Banning vagrancy: where is the home for homeless?

Will the police be able to remove all the homeless people from Russia's streets? The authorities claim they can as they come up with an initiative to completely ban vagrancy.

The Russian Interior Ministry has come up with an initiative to ban beggars and tramps from the streets. Such laws existed in the Soviet Union, but were abolished in 1991. In modern-day Russia, the number of homeless is growing every year.
Several years ago, Vladimir Chaikov was beaten up in his hometown of Tula – just two hundred kilometers from Moscow. He does not remember what happened after he was attacked, but several days later he found himself in the Russian capital with no money and no ID. Ever since this square at one of Moscow’s train stations has been his home.
“I sleep right here on this square. And some people help me occasionally by giving food. Sometimes I have to search trash bins for something to eat,” said Vladimir Chaikov.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis which followed, the number of homeless people in Russia has been rapidly growing. Now there are estimated to be over 4 million of them in the country, over a hundred thousand in Moscow alone. And that is just the official statistics.
They gather at crowded areas like train stations, begging for food and money. Beds of carton and rotten leftovers are all they have.
The Soviet Union’s criminal code had an article prohibiting vagrancy, which entailed up to three years in prison. It was abolished in 1991. And now the Interior Ministry has come up with an initiative to revive it.
“The homeless often use trains and stations as their homes. Some of them have serious diseases such as tuberculosis.   And from the medical point of view, there must be certain restrictions concerning these people being in public places,” stated Vyacheslav Tishenkov from the Transport Security Department
But human-rights activists say homeless are after all people and such strict measures would be unjust.
“There is no need to be so harsh with the homeless. After all, no one can be kicked out  from where he lives – even if it’s just a street. Instead we should rather open medical and employment centers for them. Help these people to recover,” objected Marina Perminova from a charity social centre.