30 January 2013

No hideouts for bums

Evening prayer at November celebration, Noah Shelter. Source.
Alternatives to Violence is a worldwide program that helps people understand how to respond to respond creatively and nonviolently in potentially violent situations. Originating with Friends in New York Yearly Meeting with a special concern for prison inmates, Alternatives to Violence Project trainers have often worked with people who, for whatever cultural or social or historical reason, may have previously assumed that violence was their only choice. Friends House Moscow has for years been part of the support network for AVP. So far, the doors to prison ministry have so far not opened to AVP here, but trainers have worked with soldiers, with people traumatized by war, with orphans, and--recently--with people living in homeless shelters.

One of the shelters visited by AVP workers is the Noah Shelter in the town of Domodedovo, not far from Moscow. For this reason, we were not happy to read this story in the official newspaper of record of Russia, Rossiiskaya Gazeta:
The "Noah" shelter is closed again
[original: www.rg.ru/2013/01/25/priyut-site.html]
25 January 2013, 4:31 p.m.

"On January 23 at 11 p.m., five police cars full of officers, then two more, drove up to our shelter in Domodedovo. The alleged reason for this sudden visit was a statement by an anonymous police well-wisher that people were being forcibly detained in the house." (Information from the Noah shelter's Web site.)

RG has twice printed stories about this unique homeless shelter, affiliated with the Church of Cosmas and Damian in Moscow, one of whose parishioners originally established the shelter. An attempt had already been made a year ago to close the shelter. After the newspaper's report appeared (RG from 20 January 2012), there was a different attitude toward the shelter. The authorities in Moscow Oblast's Mytishchi district acknowledged the value of this social initiative. Shelter organizer Emelyan Sosinski said that a much-welcomed collaboration with the local police was established: "You only have to call; we'll send someone from the precinct station right away. We understand that we're in this together."

Starting out as a shelter for homeless people, over the past year the Noah Shelter has developed into a "House of Diligence." In its first months, it subsisted on parishioners' donations, but now almost all of the residents have jobs and are able to sustain themselves. They themselves cover the house rent, which is quite expensive. Living conditions, it must be said, are quite comfortable, but on the other hand, residency requirements are harsh: Break the rules twice and you're out. During this year, Emelyan managed to secure legal status for more than 300 people who had long since lost all their documents.

Now the Noah Shelter rents five houses in different parts of Moscow. it's simply miraculous that this shelter, having gathered hundreds of representatives of a most volatile sector of society, presents no special concerns to local law enforcement.

But now it seems that the Domodedovo police have taken an abrupt dislike to them. Back in May, when Emelyan came to negotiate collaboration, the same deputy chief of the Domodedovo police who led Wednesday night's raid, Major Piskunov, declared that no "hideouts for bums" would be tolerated.

For a while the Domodedovo police continued to carry on as if they took no notice of the shelter. But more recently, as Emelyan puts it on that same Web site, "friction with the police started up."

"...Now every night, they catch our charges on their way home from work and take them to the police station to check their IDs. It's a legal and legitimate procedure, but each time we find that the police officer goes beyond what the law allows. They often keep detaining the very same people whose identities have already long since been confirmed. They hold them for more than the three-hour maximum detention. We've no choice but to write complaints. What a shame! I'd always much rather cooperate with the police than engage in hostile exchanges."

And now this: two nights ago, from a house where around a hundred people reside, they removed almost every resident, leaving only four disabled people who were not able to move. They even removed the doctor from Moscow who was there to conduct checkups. They carried away the shelter's donated computers and all their financial records.

Strange as it may seem, the cause of action ("people are being forcibly detained") was apparently forgotten during the raid. Addressing Emelyan, Major Piskunov charged that the cook on duty did not have the right to prepare meals because she did not have a chef's certification. (Of course, homeless people can always obtain food scraps "hygienically" in garbage containers.) And the major also declared that, while the lease was correctly written up, the landlord nevertheless had no right to lodge so many people in his house.

Of course, the Domodedovo police can credit themselves with having found a real "rubber house" [normally a "rubber house" is an address for formal--i.e., fictitious--registration of large numbers of guest workers or others who are actually living elsewhere in illegal housing]. True, current legislation gives Sosinski the right to welcome any number of guests, who, as Russian citizens, may reside for up to 90 days without registering. But now a campaign to eliminate "rubber houses" has been announced; and even before any campaign-related legislation has been adopted, the Domodedovo police are clearly eager to get ahead of the curve. Such zeal is surely commendable.

So then, let's close that Noah Shelter. Let its hundreds of residents, expelled to nowhere, multiply the number of homeless people freezing on the streets and in the doorways. In Moscow alone, up to 150 people get frostbite every night. No doubt there's enough cold for everyone. There's plenty of winter yet to come, as everyone knows, and severe cold snaps to spare.

Unfortunately, minds and hearts can freeze over at any time of the year.
Since this article was published, the rector of the sponsoring church, Father Alexander Borisov, met with authorities to straighten out the situation, but so far without success. We all hope for a resolution.

"Not passing by swiftly on the other side": William Yoder writes about Martin Luther King observances in Moscow.

"What responsibility do we owe to the poor in our congregations?"

Are you 20-26 years old and interested in international affairs? Consider this year's Geneva International Summer School, July 7-19.

Roman Lunkin suggests that the role of Protestants in Russia is undervalued.

Friends Journal interviews Anne Lamott.

"Who's afraid of Kim Dotcom?" "What has happened in the Kim Dotcom case goes far beyond right vs. left, pro- or anti-American sentiment, though I acknowledge that there is a lot of noise from the fringes on these issues. This is fundamentally about rights and protecting privacy; values that many conservative elements are coming around to despite the sometimes awkward overlap with progressives and net freedom activists."

Allman Brothers, including Derek Trucks...

No comments: