Homeless for the Holidays (and Other Times): Yerevan shelter is a haven in winter

Many homeless people know the place of the Temporary Shelter for Homeless People located in the backyard of Yerevan Boarding-house #1. It is known as the best – and for some, only – place where street people find winter shelter.

A guest is allowed two months’ stay at the shelter, which has been providing such relief since 2006. In addition to a place to sleep, the needy are given three meals a day, a place to bathe and television. The shelter can accommodate up to 60.

“We are physically unable to receive more than 60 people, because we have a problem with placement of beds in the rooms,” Hayk Poghosyan, Director of the Temporary Shelter for Homeless People told ArmeniaNow.

He says that some come to the shelter having learned word-of-mouth; some are brought by police; some are directed there by the Minis by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ombudsman’s office or by common citizens.

The Government of Armenia allots 58,867,000 drams (about $155,000) to the shelter annually. About 1,335 drams (around $3.50) is spent on each homeless person daily.

At present the oldest tenant of the shelter is 79, and the youngest, 20.

Poghosyan says that there are cases when he sees repeat guests.

“There are people who really have no other place to go, and if we ask them to leave, then they must wander, beg, and God knows what else. They will not take a bath, and will get food from garbage bins… But we must also be consistent and not allow such things to happen. If people follow our domestic regulations, that is to say, if they do not use liquor, if they are respectable towards their roommates and our employees, if they bathe, eat and keep the room clean, then there is neither a reason nor a desire to ask those people to leave,” Poghosyan says.

The number of homeless has risen in recent years, according to the director, and there is a need to enlarge the shelter. This year the shelter has accommodated about 600, and while Poghosyan didn’t specify how many people he had to reject, he says there is a need for “several hundred” beds to accommodate requests.

Sergey Navasardov, 79, is one of the old-timers of the shelter. He says that he does not use liquor, does not quarrel, he is a quiet person, and that is why the director likes him. He is a refugee; he came to Armenia from Baku. His sister also lives here. He worked as a driver in Baku. Photos of Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukyan, torn out from magazines are the first objects that strike one’s eye in the old man’s room, they are everywhere. He speaks about “Gagik Nikolayevich” (Gagik Tsarukyan) with delight since the tycoon presented him a refrigerator which he keeps in his room (along with a television donated to him by boxing champ Vic Darchinyan). Tsaurkyan, says Sergey is “Armenia’s pride”.

“It is 22 years that I am here (in Armenia), this government is a bad government. If they gave me a room, I would leave here (the shelter) a long ago, I could do even with a bed,” says the old man, who spends most of his time reading books.

Echmiadzin resident 42-year-old Karine Avetisyan is in the shelter for the first time, and has been here one month. She cannot check her tears while speaking. Avetisyan says that her relatives have brought her here, when she was left alone after her mother’s death. Before, they used to live in a small shelter which did not belong to them. Avetisyan’s speech is unconnected; she cannot explain properly what has happened to her. She says that her brother living in Poland must come and take her from here.

“However, it is already a month that I have no news from him,” the woman says, crying.

Poghosyan says that most of their tenants end up here mainly because of either their relatives or their own weaknesses for liquor, narcotics, gambling, and simply because of being too lazy. (The shelter offers to help with documentation of passports, etc. if Poghosyan sees that one of his guests is willing to work. Recently he helped find jobs for a baker and for a shoe repairman. Other than that, the shelter isn’t set up for offering counseling. (He says he also found a job for a younger man, recently, but the man – though homeless and unemployed – refused.)

Anahit, 64, (who did not want to tell her last name) is here for the first time, too. She did different works for many years. The woman is annoyed that there is no job for a woman of her age in Armenia. She has sold her house to pay the medical expenses of her ill son, who, nonetheless, died. Later she privately pedaled small items of clothing, and was able to rent an apartment from the income. She could not afford paying for the apartment during the recent months and therefore came to the shelter. Anahit doesn’t know what she will do after two months are up, she hopes she will be able to continue reselling the goods.