Daria Baibakova began her career at a leading audit company where she participated extensively in the corporate charity programs. Ten years later she decided to make charitable engagements her full time profession. Today, Daria heads up the Moscow branch of Nochlezhka, one of the oldest charity organization to help the homeless. From Darya, we learned about the challenges homeless people face in Moscow from trying to survive to discrimination and what her organization does to help.
|PHILANTHROPIC FOCUS||Helping the homeless in Moscow|
|ROLE MODEL||My Mother|
Why did you decide to get involved in charitable activities?
It is quite hard to say. I used to work as a financial auditor at Ernst & Young (EY). I started at EY after three years at university and worked there for the next ten years. One day, EY put out a newsletter describing the firm’s support of the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme (BBBS) - a scheme for mentoring children from orphanages. As I read through, it really struck a chord with me and I thought about and evaluated the information for some time. This then prompted me to take action myself by becoming a BBBS volunteer and the “elder sister” for Andrei, a boy from the orphanage. I was a friend and mentor for Andrei for the next seven years until he left the orphanage, after which we formally stopped being part of the BBBS programme. However, we do still keep in touch from time to time.
When I decided that I would like to change my career as an auditor I was driven by the idea of doing something more useful and socially significant. I took some time to think about what exactly I wanted to do. From my time with BBBS, I already had real experience of working for a non-profit organisation.
I concluded that a non-profit organisation is a place where I could use my financial and managerial experience and also my ability to communicate with the top management of large companies.
I also understand the importance of non-profit organisations helping out with key social problems in areas where the state simply cannot cope. That is what I wanted to do.
What made you decide to help the homeless?
After EY, I first worked as a fundraising director for the charity programme Spina Bifida, which helps children with damage to the spinal cord. I then found out that a charity called Nochlezhka had opened a branch in Moscow. I immediately thought that this could be an interesing charity to become involved with as it deals with such a complex and sometimes unpopular topic. I could see a real chance to create a new branch for this charity from scratch to care for the needs of homeless people.
There are about 15,000 homeless people on the streets of Moscow who need help, and many people do not even know about the scale of this problem. Why do you think this topic is not extensively covered in the media?
Getting accurate stats on the number of homeless people on the streets of Moscow is a tough question as nobody really knows.
According to estimates made by various organisations, the actual number could be anything between 14,000 to 80,000 people in Moscow alone.
In all probability, the real figure is closer to the upper boundary. The only thing that is reliably known is the mortality data. So, according to the most up to date Mosstat figures, for 2017 2917 homeless people died on the streets of Moscow.
Homeless people are one of the most stigmatised groups in society and the picture of homelessness itself is shaped by a huge number of myths and stereotypes.
All of them often come down to the impression that many people simply choose to live on the street or are themselves the victim of circumstances which have contributed to the troubles they now face. In addition, it is for some easier to empathize with and want to help children rather than homeless adults. All together, this leads to the conclusion that the topic of helping homeless people is really rather difficult and unpopular.
In reality, all these stereotypes have nothing to do with reality. The main reasons why people find themselves on the street are:
- 50 % moving to another city in search of work
- 34% family problems
- 19% fraudulent transactions with real estate
Poverty usually leads to homelessness and can flow inevitably from a series of misfortunes in a person’s life that they simply couldn’t manage. Nobody wants to live on the street.
Life on the street is the hardest thing and involves a dangerous life where there’s constant pressure to survive. Priorities have to change with a focus on: finding a warm and safe place to stay overnight, sourcing food and gathering the strength to solve problems and cope with trouble. And in general, every day of life on the streets chips away at an individual’s inner core making them progressively weaker.
Everyone has the right to dignity and assistance, regardless of why they’re in trouble.
The charity Nochlezhka works hard to attract the attention of society and the media to the problem of homelessness and the importance of helping people on the street: we organise educational events and lectures, create and place social advertising, and conduct campaigns in parks and at festivals.
Why did you choose to work for the charity Nochlezhka?
Nochlezhka is one of the oldest charity organisations in Russia. It has systematically been working to solve the problem for 29 years as it builds and then offers a comprehensive homeless care system. The main task of all the projects run by Nochlezhka is to help people get off the streets and return to ordinary life. According to our statistics from the street, 60% of people who go through rehabilitation are able to find a more permanent form of shelter.
For me, it is important that our task at Nochlezhka is not only about developing programmes of direct assistance to people (which is certainly very important and necessary), but also to improve the legislation and explore the actual causes of homelessness and the most effective methods to solve this problem. We also need to educate many more people about the extent of the problem by attracting the attention of society policymakers.
It’s essential too to work with other non-profit organisations helping homeless people across Russia – we want to share our experience with them.
Could you shareyour most memorable moment during your work for Nochlezhka?
There really have been so many of those. Recently, we held a joint event with Lenta hypermarkets, when in three Moscow stores customers could leave products and hygiene products for homeless people.
In the store, where I handed out flyers, one of the first products was brought over by a little girl. She put a box of sweets in the basket. She said that the sweet straw is her favourite sweet, and homeless people should like it.
And then a very elderly woman brought us a can of food. With her small pension, it is very difficult for her to live; she therefore understands well that each of us could at any moment need help ourselves.
I also went as a volunteer on a Night Bus where I distributed food for homeless people at four sites in St. Petersburg. One night, I got chatting with another volunteer – it turned out that this young man used to be a regular at the Night Bus when he needed food. He’d then lived in a shelter but had moved out,, found a job, got married and now helps Nochlezhka as a volunteer himself.
How can people show their support for Homeless?
There are so many ways. The easiest one is to make a regular donation of any size using our website: https://homeless.ru/how_to_help/. In this way, our income is more predictable allowing us to plan our work for the months ahead. Any amount, no matter how small, is very important to us. On the website you can see clearly what each donation means in practice. For example, you can feed one person in our Night Bus project for just 99 rubles which includes one consultation. Giving access to a lawyer or social worker using our Counselling Service costs 1,083 rubles while 49 rubles will cover the laundry costs of one person.
For those wanting to become a volunteer, simply fill out a profile here: https://homeless.ru/job/. A huge number of our projects have happened thanks to the support from dedicated volunteers. For example, in Moscow we have 181 volunteers who regularly come to our rescue: someone helps with the design of presentations for partners, another sorts and distributes humanitarian aid to the customers of Homeless. Then we have people who help by taking photos for our social advertising campaigns or participate in our charity fairs. We’ve also had support in organsing concerts to raise funds for our night shelters. In fact, whatever your skill, there are always ways to help.
Tell us about the challenges that Nochlezhka faces?
There are a lot of challenges. In the summer, we were not able to open our Laundry facility in Moscow, because some residents of the area in which we rented the premises spoke out sharply and quite aggressively against such a project. And in general, in Moscow, we have not been able to find premises for our projects for many months. We started with appeals to the Government of Moscow with a request to allocate us with 300 square metres free of rent or to rent it to us at a reduced rate. It seemed to us that there is something not right about using charitable donations to pay for the commercial rent of premises to support projects which help with some important social problems of the city.
During this time, we wrote 12 appeals to various officials, and attracted 80,000 signatures to a petition where residents called for us to receive some space to do our work. It’s sad to note that there seems to be a belief that there are already enough facilities for homeless people – that just does not fit with the reality we see on the streets of Moscow every single day.
Every time there is any suitable option, we study the area in question. We make a map and find out who lives in every house within a radius of 200 meters from our potential premises. We also find out about who the local decison makers and politicians are. We gather a lot of such data.
Most often, we get a refusal when they find out which projects we would like to open.
On two occasions, we started the agreement negotiations, and in one I even managed to meet a representative of the government in the area. We were refused because the owners of even the most disadvantaged premises in industrial areas surrounded by tyre fitting workshops, washing machine repair shops and some other industrial premises felt that projects helping homeless people did not fit into their area. They took the view that homelessness is somehow a life choice and that support was not needed. They also believed that crime would result from the homeless people.
With progress so slow, we then looked for commercial space to use. The need was clear – people on the street require help and there’s not enough of it available. As of now, we’re still looking and will not give up until we find somewhere. We’ve got volunteers searching too and we’ve already checked out 19 industrial zones.
If there was an opportunity to turn back time, would you do something different?
Maybe in a few small ways. But overall, I am content that I came to work in the non-profit sector and with the charity Nochlezhka. My work has never been so challenging, so interesting and ultimately so rewarding.
What advice would you give to a person who is just about to engage in charity?
It seems to me that the first important thing is to determine for yourself the social problem you would like to solve – that question or those questions that seem important to you. And the second step is so crucial - choose a reliable and professional organisation working for a need that’s close to your heart.
Participation in the work of a non-profit organisation will save you from burnout and make the help you give as effective as possible.
If you would like to learn more about Nochlezhka and the work that they do visit https://homeless.ru or search for Nochlezhka on Facebook and Instagram.