06/09/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA

Moscow bans feeding the hungry

by Nina Achmatova
City council orders the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian to close its soup kitchen for the homeless because it gives an unseemly image of the city. The parish is located outside the mayor’s offices. Each year in the capital at least 200 homeless people die of cold.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - For 15 years, twice a week, the Russian Orthodox parish of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Shubin, Moscow, has offered food and assistance to the homeless. For 15 years on Wednesday and Friday from 300 to 600 homeless people were sure of a full meal, medicine, clothes and some heat, which in the long Russian winter becomes as important as bread. For 15 years. Until May, when the administration of the municipality of Moscow ordered Parish priest Alexandr Borisov to terminate the service for hygiene reasons. The parish is situated on the famous Tverskaya Street, a temple to luxury boutiques, banks and representative offices of international companies, but most importantly it is in front of the City Council wand it appears mayor Sergei Sobianin did not like the sight of homeless people in a queue waiting their turn to be fed and so ordered the shelter closed.

According to Father Borisov, there was also pressure from some residents in apartment buildings across from the church, who have long complained about the presence of the homeless. "There are some people - denounced the pastor - who call themselves religious, attend services celebrated by the Patriarch, but then they act only to destroy and never to build."

The church of Saints Cosmas and Damian have received the solidarity of the Moscow Patriarchate who wrote to Sobyanin asking that the administration provide an alternative structure to that of the parish, where they can continue the canteen and social initiatives. "That aid to the homeless - continues the priest - is precisely the sphere where church and state can work better together: the city council could provide the structure to welcome the homeless and we will provide the staff and volunteers to do the job." It is estimated that each year there are 200 homeless people who die from the cold in the capital alone

As with other mega-cities, homelessness in Moscow is a perennial problem, exacerbated by the indifference and prejudice of the population and authorities: online and on the street is common to hear people worried that the state protect their "right not to be touched and infected by bums on public transport. " The police has organized a sort of rounds in which each day, according to official figures, about 200 homeless people are gathered and taken to reception centers where they are washed and treated, only to later sent back onto the street.

In the past there have been attempts, both local and federal, to reintroduce into the penal code the crime of 'vagrancy', but they have all failed. According to Ministry of Interior estimates, the population of homeless people in Moscow is upwards of 100 thousand people, half of whom have a high school diploma. Precisely for this reason experts believe that a program of reintegration of these people in society is possible. While the intention of the political class seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

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