One of the most interesting things I found about Nochlezhka and their organization was the night bus. As the annual report said, “ Going back from the street to a stable life requires a lot of effort. To start homeless people need to eat, otherwise they simply will have no energy to get their papers re-issued and work. Generally, thousands of people in St. Petersburg live below the poverty line. These are lonely elderly people, temporarily unemployed people and families with many children. The organization believes nobody should be hungry in the city.”
The Van of the People:
Every single night during the week, a special van goes to remote areas of the city and makes stops to give out hot meals and clothes to the homeless and poor. They have volunteers including doctors who also attend and go out sometimes. The night bus also connects the homeless and offers help. Outside of food, clothes and medical help, the driver lets the homeless know where they might go to get some assistance on legal issues, paperwork and addiction. It is truly a van of the people One nightly journey by the night bus costs about 11,836 rubles or 200 dollars a night and it costs 72 rubles or $1.30 to feed one person. In 2016, the night bus fed 6,361 people giving out over 37,000 hot meals.
The bus is ran by volunteers. Three persons go out every night with the bus to feed people. People living in Europe, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries might have a hard time believing this, but homeless in Russia have a hard time finding access to drinking water. A project in 2016 brought a ton of drinking water to homeless from the night van.
As mentioned, the night bus does not provide just food but also assistance in all areas. Below are some personal examples pulled from the yearly report. The language is exactly quoted as found.
Petr was brought up in an orphanage but was not provided with housing which he was entitled to. He found himself on the street after he lost his job because he could no longer pay his rent. Igor the driver convinced him to go to Nochlezhka and ask for help. The man took a rehabilitation course to overcome his alcohol addiction in the shelter found a job and started renting again. Petr said, “I want to thank Igor for his kind heart and all his support, for all the light and hope that he brings to the world. He helped me once and I’m infinitely grateful for his help. If there would be more people like him in the world, it would be kinder, fairer and better.”
Elena lost her job when her skills were no longer needed. She was close to retirement age and nobody would hire her. Elena started drinking out of despair and did not know what to do. She went to the night bus each evening to get food to eat. Igor the driver asked the women about her issues and showed her support which she had not found since losing her job. He found some job openings for her and she was able to find work once again. She no longer needed the assistance of the night bus after finding stable employment.
Anna comes from St. Petersburg and has the proper paperwork. She is registered at a mental institution and lives only on benefits. One day she met a couple who asked if they could rent a room in her flat. Anna agreed because she was struggling to survive on her benefits. The new tenants did not pay their rent and even started demanding money from Anna. They threatened her with violence. As a result, she did not have money to pay her utility bills. Her debt increased, and she was at risk of being evicted. She was scared and had nobody to help her. She stayed at home less and started coming to the night bus for food. Igor talked to her about her issues and difficult situation. He helped connect Anna to the right social services at the agency. As a result, the difficult unwanted guests were evicted, and Anna found social supports she could count on.
It is remarkable how much difference this organization makes in its community. There is something remarkable about the resolve of the leadership and employees who run this group and ensure that the night bus is running. In our next blog, you will learn about the winter tent.