Experts See Drop in Number of Street Kids

Experts See Drop in Number of Street Kids

Staff Writer

Nadezhda is one of the young people who work at the Grand Hotel Europe as part of a scheme to help the underprivileged.

Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

Nadezhda is one of the young people who work at the Grand Hotel Europe as part of a scheme to help the underprivileged.

St. Petersburg has from 3,000 to 10,000 street children but their number is gradually decreasing, experts have said.

“It’s hard to count these children and hard to give exact statistics. However, we have noticed that the number is decreasing,” Vera Klimova, coordinator of work with neglected children at Innovations Center, said at a press briefing dedicated to the problem last week.

Klimova said that in the Nevsky and Admiralteisky districts where help for street children is available the number of street children has decreased significantly.

“However, you can still see quite a number of them at Prospekt Prosveshcheniya or in the Kupchino district,” in the north and the south of the city respectively, Klimova said.

Wednesday’s press briefing was attended by a number of agencies dealing with street children, an often hidden problem that the authorities have struggled to tackle.

Maria Chugunova, a social worker from the city’s Children’s Crisis Center, said the decreasing number of street children could be due to measures taken to prevent family neglect, the appearance of family support centers, and pro-active help from the city administration.

Chugunova said every year the Children’s Crisis Center receives about 7,000 calls on its hotline.

Children complain about family conflict, violence, addictions and serious illnesses. The center offers help to children if they leave home, or are thrown out, via means such as the Social Rehabilitation Center for Street Children located in the Nevsky District.

The Children’s Crisis Center also has a mobile school where children, regardless of their age and education, can attend classes.

A special “night hostel” offers beds to teenagers who can’t live at home or have run away from children’s homes.

There are also day-care centers where children can receive subsidized food twice a month to help out their families.

“We don’t give the food packages more often than this in order to keep families active and doing something for themselves,” Chugunova said.

The Children’s Crisis Center caters for autistic children and children with other special needs by providing excursions to museums and day trips.

Klimova said the Innovations Center has worked with the Admiralteisky district to support the Ostrov (“Island”) day center that offers social, medical, psychological, and family rehabilitation to children in need.

The family rehabilitation program offers psychological and material help to parents as well.

“Sometimes those parents just need to believe in themselves, or to be sent to medical establishments to be cured of addictions,” Klimova said.

The center also takes children to summer camps.

Ostrov prepares youngsters for adult life by encouraging school attendance and has collaborated with companies such as the Grand Hotel Europe, IKEA, and Gillette to provide internships and work placements for former street children.

Innovations Center organizes street patrols two or three times a week to reach out to children living rough.

“However, all our experience shows that to achieve real success, every child needs an individual adult to take care of them,” Klimova said.

“I think that in future the system of shelters and day centers should be changed to placing children with adoptive families,” she said.


Russia Physician Leads New Organization Committed to Saving Children From The Streets

Russia Physician Leads New Organization Committed to Saving Children From The Streets

DTC Executive Director
Svetlana Suvorova

Dr. Svetlana Suvorova is the Executive Director of Doctors To Children (DTC), a St. Petersburg-based NGO that provides medical and social services to street and at-risk children, youth, and families.  In 2001, DOW helped to establish DTC as a local NGO to serve as a key partner in the administration of programs for street at-risk children, youth, and families. DTC is a joint initiative of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and teachers. Dr. Suvorova, a clinical cardiologist, has extensive experience working with at-risk populations in Russia. She was the original Project Coordinator of DOW’s MAMA+ Project for HIV-positive mothers in St. Petersburg, served as a project coordinator for a Russian NGO working with IDUs, and has worked as a nurse providing care to children born to HIV+ mothers. DOW interviewed her in St. Petersburg. 

What role does DOW play in your work?
SS: DOW has shared its extensive experience working with vulnerable populations, and supports DTC in generating new ideas and developing innovative services for target groups.   
What role do you think foreign NGOs can and should play in Russia?
SS: The main role of foreign NGOs in Russia is to share their positive experiences with local organizations in order to prevent them from making mistakes that have already been made by their forerunners. Russia is currently facing numerous social problems which in the past did not exist or were not recognized by Russian society. Our country is in the initial stages of addressing these issues. Foreign NGOs provide local organizations with positive experiences and effective models of support for vulnerable groups.    
How have Russian government authorities and organizations responded to DTC and DOW’s work?  Has your work influenced or changed how they address the needs of street and at-risk children and youth, including those who are living with HIV? 
SS: DTC has gained broader visibility among government authorities and organizations. These institutions have become more interested in our innovative ideas and approaches, which is evidenced by our continued development of partnerships with government institutions. Additionally, DTC is supported by the City Government and has recently been awarded several grants by the Labor and Social Protection Committee and the Youth Policy Committee. Over time, the new services developed by DOW and DTC are integrated into government systems.
Moreover, DOW and DTC assist social welfare agencies in the professional development of their staff by conducting specialized training events – seminars, workshops, and supervision sessions – in order to expand their knowledge and teach them about our best practices. As a result of joint activities between DOW/DTC and government institutions, specialists representing government institutions have become more tolerant to certain client groups, in particular people living with HIV/AIDS.   
How has the situation for street and at-risk children and youth in St. Petersburg changed since DTC & DOW launched their programs?
SS: Once an isolated group, street youth have begun to receive access to medical and social services. The joint activities of DTC/DOW and government agencies have helped health and social service professionals become closer to this population, and clients have become more empowered to apply for medical and social assistance.     

Study Finds 37.4% HIV Prevalence Among Street Youth in Russia

Study Finds 37.4% HIV Prevalence Among Street Youth in Russia

Young DOW clients pass time
on the streets of St. Petersburg.

A study published in the November 1, 2007 issue of the journal AIDS reports that 37.4% of street youth between the ages of 15 and 19 years old surveyed in St. Petersburg, Russia are HIV-positive, placing street youth in Russia among the populations most at-risk for HIV around the world. The study, conducted between January and May 2006 by the health and human rights organization Doctors of the World-USA (DOW), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the City AIDS Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, found that factors such as injection drug use, unsafe sexual practices, homelessness, and orphanhood were prime drivers of HIV transmission in this group. 
“These results underscore the urgent need to increase efforts focused on youth,” said Tom Dougherty, DOW Executive Director. “Information on how HIV is transmitted is not enough – we must reach out to at-risk youth with programs that engage them and give them hope for a future.”
Young people represent almost half of all HIV infections worldwideThe HIV epidemic in Russia, one of the fastest growing in the world, is most heavily concentrated among the young: 80% of new HIV infections occur among people 15 to 30 years old.  Street youth – young people who live on the street some or all of the time – constitute a group particularly at risk. Abandoned, abused, or neglected, they often organize into groups as they negotiate survival, performing odd jobs and engaging in activities that place them at risk for HIV, including transactional sex and drug use. Experts estimate there are 1 to 3 million street youth in Russia, with an estimated 10-16,000 in St. Petersburg alone. 
In addition to the extraordinarily high HIV prevalence among the 313 surveyed street youth in St. Petersburg, the study reveals rates within certain subgroups are among the highest reported in the world – 60% of orphaned street youth tested positive for HIV, as did nearly 80% of those who used injection drugs. The study found that high-risk behaviors are common among this population, despite a relatively high awareness of behaviors that transmit HIV. 
Outreach, prevention, access to care, and crisis intervention services must be expanded. With local government and non-government partners, DOW has established a range of interventions to engage street youth, link them to treatment, care, and support, and prevent new infections. This low threshold model has shown encouraging results: 54% of all positive youth have remained active in the program to date, 38% are linked to ongoing health and psychosocial services, and 35% are linked to care at the St. Petersburg City AIDS Center. These follow-up rates are especially promising, considering street youth are a mobile population, often with no permanent address. Without school, steady employment, or stable family relationships, they are at high risk of being lost to follow-up.
Attention to the social, behavioral, and medical factors that contribute to this epidemic are an urgent priority. Without treatment and support, many of the HIV-infected youth will die between the ages of 20 and 30. Strengthening comprehensive services for street and at-risk youth, including drug rehabilitation, educational outreach, housing, vocational training, and family support programs, is vital to curbing high-risk behaviors and preventing further spread of HIV.   
Public-private partnerships are key to addressing HIV and the range of issues that threaten the survival of street and at-risk youth. Comprehensive programs are essential to enable street youth to ensure their survival. With the support of private foundations (Ford Foundation, MAC AIDS Fund and others), corporations (Johnson & Johnson), the local government and the United States Agency for International Development, and in partnership with DOW, the Russian NGO Doctors to Children and multiple city agencies are providing comprehensive medical and social services to at-risk and street youth. These include drop-in centers and outreach programs, access to counseling, educational and vocational training, foster family programs, legal support, and health services. HIV prevention and education programs target street and at-risk children and youth and provide free testing, counseling and other care, and access to treatment. A new transitional housing facility for HIV-positive drug-involved youth will open in 2008. 
Collaborative efforts to address the underlying causes of HIV and other health issues not only help curb the impact of this deadly disease, but create a brighter future for street and at-risk youth. 


Access to HIV Testing, Prevention, and Care for Street Youth

Support for Street and At-Risk Children and Youth

British couple Good Samaritans to Russian street kids

October 21, 2007, 11:05

British couple Good Samaritans to Russian street kids

Statistics suggests there are around one million homeless children in Russia, although the real scale of the problem can hardly be assessed. Some experts believe the actual number could be four times as high.

Although the problem of homeless children has improved in recent years, local authorities are still under-resourced and ineffective.
British couple Hamish and Hannah-Louise are volunteers from abroad. They run the Love’s Bridge charity which reaches out to the city of Perm’s most vulnerable children, in European Russia’s north east. 

Подпись Hannah-Louise and Hamish, volunteers

They come to the place where teenagers hang out once a week to entice them to their day shelter.
“Their initial reaction is mistrust: maybe we’ve got an ulterior motive, maybe we’re with the police, maybe we just want to take advantage of them. But we try and build up trust with them as best as we can, just invite them to come along with no strings attached,” says Hamish.
At the Love’s Bridge shelter, the teenagers receive food, advice, counselling and basic medical attention.
“The most valuable thing is that they maintain contacts with the real world. The older kids come to us once a week, it’s the only opportunity that we have to hang onto them and encourage them to make some changes in their life,” said Hannah-Louise.
The Love’s Bridge volunteers have helped hundreds of street children to overcome their addictions, return to their families or go back to school.

Street Children in St. Petersburg, Russia – VOTC

Street Children in St. Petersburg, Russia – VOTC

This is a short video about the street children of St. Petersburg and how Alex Gorelik started Voice Of The Children (VOTC) to meet their needs.

Voice of the Children provides street children with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical treatment, counseling, and prayer through its programs in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Visit their website to find out how you can participate:

Life on the Streets

Life on the Streets

By Joyce Man
Staff Writer

Vladimir Filonov / MT

Vladimir began his day at 2 p.m. at Kursky Station. "I’m collecting money here," the teenager said, sitting at the stairs leading out to the platforms. "My friends are outside selling old magazines."

With their collected funds, Vladimir said, they will buy one meal, and use the remainder for butorphanol, an opiate analgesic that, at 50 rubles an ampule, is a cheap alternative to heroin. At night, they plan to return to sleep in an attic atop a building near the Timiryazevskaya metro station.

When asked why he left his family, also living in Moscow, Vladimir became withdrawn and would only say: "My friends are here."

Because of the mobile nature of street children, their number is hard to assess, said Justine Simons, a psychologist and project coordinator for the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, at a news conference in January. The Department of Social Population Protection in Moscow says the city has 4,142 children who are beznadzorniye, neglected, or besprizorniki, homeless. MSF, which has worked with them since 2003, estimates that there are about 2,000.

Fifty percent of the street children surveyed by MSF consume alcohol regularly; 77.8 percent smoke cigarettes; 27.4 percent inhale glue. About one-third use butorphanol, which is classified as a prescription drug but loosely regulated, and are freely able to purchase it at pharmacies.

The life of Moscow’s street children has been well documented, with wide coverage and an exhibition of their photography called My Yest, or We Are, organized by MSF and Belgian photographer Jorge Dirkx in 2006. What have been less spoken of are the changes in the past five years.

Francoise Horowitz, president of Samusocial Moscow, an emergency and social assistance program for the homeless, said there had been a noticeable drop in the number of children on the street. Oleg Zykov, president of the No to Drugs and Alcohol organization, or NAN, agreed.

In a report published in February, however, MSF said 98 percent of Muscovites surveyed in mid-2006 disagreed that there had been an improvement in the child homelessness rate. But the report acknowledged that "over the past four or five years, more attention has been paid by the Russian state," and said that almost 6 billion rubles had been allocated to the federal child homeless and juvenile crime prevention program.

The mechanism of care in Moscow has become highly systematic: Police round up the street children and bring them to hospitals, where for one to two weeks they undergo examinations and receive medical care. They are then placed in priyuty, shelters that provide medical services, education and rehabilitation, and where children are received regardless of nationality and the legal documents they hold. Each child’s length of stay depends on what rehabilitative measures are needed. Whenever possible, the child is returned directly to the family.

Priyuty are "optimal and effective," said Lyudmila Magaletskaya, head of Moscow’s department for homeless and neglected children. In 2006, 3,000 children received social rehabilitation services in shelters, she said.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
More than one-quarter of street children surveyed in Moscow said they inhale glue.

But MSF said hospitalization, which is a mandatory step before placement in a priyut, discourages children from using state services. During hospitalization, they live behind barred windows and are disciplined with force.

The state system runs smoothly, Horowitz said, but it’s unsuitable for children who are accustomed to a lack of order in their daily lives. Horowitz, the MSF and Zykov said that though the system had improved, it only deals with the results and not the root of the problem of child neglect and domestic abuse.

"The system mechanically removes children from the street and places them into hospitals and shelters," said Zykov by telephone. "It’s not that there are fewer neglected children, it’s that the problem is less obvious."

The focus, he said, should be at the family level; often, parents do not acknowledge that they have problems. He also argues for legislation to protect children’s rights and a special court that answers specifically to children’s issues. Zykov is currently pushing for a law to deal specifically with neglected children’s issues, but after passing a first reading in February 2002, it has not seen any progress toward a second reading.

Horowitz, from France, said a more personal approach was needed. The first goal is to gain a child’s trust, and to "make sure someone is worthy of that trust, it takes hours and hours," she said.

The long-term solutions seen by Samusocial and MSF as most effective are indicative of the problem’s nature. Samusocial’s first outreach team spent three to four months wandering Moscow’s streets for several hours five to six times a week, until the children sought them out. In its program’s most active phase, MSF sent two to three teams in four-hour shifts each day several times a week just to converse with street children and establish a rapport.

"This problem is here to stay," said Horowitz, "and that’s why we’ll continue to work.".

The Children of Leningradsky

The Children of Leningradsky
Hanna Polak
33 min 37 sec – 4-Feb-2007
Nominated for the 2004 Academy Award® for Best Documentary, Short Subject, this documentary takes an intimate and heartbreaking look at a group of homeless children living in and around a Moscow train station.

Please visit the website and help these children.

Delivering hope to Russia’s unwanted street kids

Delivering hope to Russia’s unwanted street kids

Home visiting her parents in Mt Somers, Rachael Hughes, founder of Living Hope, the organisation that works to improve the lives of homeless children in the Russian city of Vladivostok.

A tiny pickpocket on a bleak and soulless Russian street changed Rachael Hughes’ life. The little boy, with the face of a child and the empty eyes of an old, old man, was hungry and homeless. He needed her wallet to survive in a hostile world where children were often the excess baggage in families fighting a constant battle against poverty. Rachael shares with chief reporter Sue Newman, the story of Living Hope, the project she has created to save Russia’s street children.

To thousands of unwanted, abused and homeless Russian children, New Zealander Rachael Hughes is their saviour, their lifeline.
With the fall of communism in Russia, many businesses collapsed and the society that had survived under harsh and draconian laws virtually collapsed under its new-found freedom. There were few jobs and thousands of people without an income. For many, their only relief lay in obliterating the pain of poverty through drink. At every turn, when Rachael arrived in Russia in 1998, there was need, desperate need. And most of those in need were children.

As the founding member of Living Hope, a charity dedicated to changing the lives of street children, Rachael has spent the past eight years letting those children know they have not been forgotten, that someone cares. Like many people who tackle charitable work, her involvement was almost accidental.

“I went into a Russian bank to change some money and when I went to put my wallet in my pocket a little hand was in there. I turned around and there was a little boy with sad, empty eyes. It just broke my heart,” she said. Rachael was not angry, instead she felt a great sadness for the child and the thousands of others she knew lived from hand to mouth on the streets. That was a life changing moment.

“I bought him food and sat with him while he ate it and the next day I made some sandwiches and just took them out for other street children,” she said. Within a month she was meeting and feeding up to 30 children, three times a week – meeting the costs out of her own pocket. The compassion she felt for the youngsters, many of whom had been driven from their homes by dysfunctional families, crippled by alcoholism, was boundless.

Over the coming days and weeks Rachael spent her time making food for the children and trying to find support from within the city of Vladivostok. Even in those harsh and deprived times, the Russian churches and many Russian people were not without sympathy for their abandoned children. Help came from the church communities, most often in the form of money, food and sometimes much needed shelter from the harsh winter. For Rachael, brought up in traditional, comfortable, middle class New Zealand, the transition to the harsh life on the poorest streets of Vladivostok was a mind-numbing contrast. Sometimes she found herself wondering at the twists and turns that had taken her so far from home.

Looking back, she knows the seeds for her life work were laid much earlier, when she first ventured overseas.
Keen to explore her Jewish roots, she headed to Israel, but having no desire to travel as a tourist, she decided to trade on her Jewish heritage and join the Israeli Army. Three months in uniform and she emerged older, wiser and with a pass mark in stripping down and rebuilding an army tank. Like many young people she continued to travel, but carried with her the nagging feeling that there was more she should be doing with her life. Motivated by her Jewish links, she volunteered to travel to Russia on a project focused on taking Russian Jews back to Israel.

“I signed on with them and they quite literally sent me to Siberia. It was incredibly cold. I just kept falling over on the ice all the time and I’d have to say I didn’t really enjoy my early experiences in Russia,” she said. She moved to Vladivostok and was asked to teach English for a year. The only qualification she needed was to be an English speaker. Her teaching stint was short-lived – the children with hungry eyes and wasted bodies stepped in and stole her soul.

Turning her one-person crusade into a charitable organisation absorbed six months of Rachael’s life, but by April 1999 the Vladivostok Homeless Children’s Rehabilitation Society had been born. For Rachael that meant six months of begging, pleading and putting the case for assistance. She became a regular on Russian television screens, pouring her passion for saving the thousands of street children into Russian hearts.

While it was inconceivable in New Zealand to consider abandoning children, in Russia, where often three generations were crammed into one-bedroom apartments with alcohol their only solace, children were simply an inconvenience. Many ran away, many were pushed out and some had never known a home, a warm bed or a hot meal. Hot water in Vladivostok is piped around the city, creating an underground network of warm pipes that made a perfect winter home for the homeless. While New Zealanders think their winter is cold, it is nothing compared to the endless, bone-chilling winter of Russia, Rachael said.

Rachael’s organisation, known as Living Hope, had small beginnings, with a street soup kitchen at two or three different locations around the city. That regular contact allowed team members to identify new kids on the streets and to build up a relationship with those who became their regular customers. Establishing trust with those who had been habitually abused, ignored and neglected was tough, but essential if they were to be helped in any way, she said. In December 1999 an American family donated money to the charity to allow a day care centre to be established. Children are invited to come to the centre three times a week, to shower and have some basic lifeskill lessons. That contact also allows volunteers to assess the children’s medical and dental needs, to provide them with clothing and to encourage them to return to school, get a job or even to return home.

Living Hope is about providing the youngsters with as many of the things as possible that a normal parent would provide, Rachael said.
“For many who attend, the Living Hope day centre has become a haven where someone is waiting for them, where they are loved and where they will always be helped. Here they are reminded that they are still children.”

Rachael doesn’t look back very often. She knows she’s achieved a lot, but there is so much more to do, she said. “I really don’t think about it, I can’t think about it, I just do what needs to be done. It’s been a lot of hard work and I’ve just gone to people and asked for help to do things.”

While the Russian evangelical church is now a supporter of the charity, it is not a specifically ‘Christian charity’, Rachael said. “But most of the people involved are Christians as it’s such hard work, you need to have something, a calling, to help you,”  That hard work has paid off. The organisation has gone from Rachael as its sole, unpaid employee to a charity that employs five full-time and five
part- time staff and teams of volunteers – all Russian. New Zealanders are involved with the charity through a volunteer programme that involves a one year commitment taking children on camps.

For people with time and love to give, volunteering for a year is a great way to go, Rachael said. Living costs in shared accommodation are likely to run to $500 a month, add to that about $3500 in airfares and visas and for less than $12,000 a volunteer can live well at the same time as they improve the lives of hundreds of street kids.

When it comes to getting by, Rachael relies solely on grants and donations. “I’m totally reliant on what others give me, but I’ve never gone without.” As time passes and the work of the charity becomes more obvious, its name better known, local government grants are beginning to come their way, she said. Once significant government funding is received a 24-hour shelter will be established in the heart of Vladivostok. This will combine the functions of a youth centre, medical centre, overnight shelter, transition shelter for rehabilitation, and for training workshops.

Seven years have passed since the charity was established, and when she looks back, Rachael can see there has been progress, significant progress. “A lot of kids have now gone home – and stayed home and to achieve that, we’ve worked with families.”
While many Russian people have chosen to ignore the street kid problem, many are much more aware of the sad plight of those lost children, Rachael said. A good example of how successful the programme could be came with one young woman who had been rescued by the programme nine years ago and had now graduated from university. Another indicator of success was that the Vladivostok project was likely to be taken up in other cities.

More children might be going home, but there was still a lot of work to do before most had anything like a normal life, she said.
For some families, involvement with Living Hope had become intergenerational. There are eight project grandchildren now involved.
“Some people think we’re wasting our time and they’re not doing anything to help, but there are others who will do anything they can to help us.”

While for Rachael the catalyst to her involvement in saving the street children was her emotional reaction to one little boy, to be successful in any kind of aid work, you need to have emotional discipline, she said. “But when someone you’ve looked after for a time commits suicide or is beaten to death by the police it is hard, very hard.” Lacking English-speaking peers with whom to share the traumas of the job, Rachael comes home for one or two months each year for time out.

Over the years her role has changed from totally hands on to one of fundraising, awareness and finding volunteers. “Fundraising is not as easy as I thought it would be. People seem more willing to give to a project but this is a project that is never ending. My job is to make sure they can keep doing the work and keep paying the wages. There is a lot of money in Russia, but they still have to learn what philanthropy is,” she said. While she now works as the public front of the charity, her focus remains unchanged, Rachael said.
“My heart is in the kids in helping them.”

Anyone wanting to help the Living Hope charity or who is interested in volunteering should contact Rachael on
October 14 2006