The problem of homeless children is not a new one in Russia. During the 1920s, thousands of children took to the streets in the aftermath of the civil war. Following World War II millions of children became orphans. The precipitating crisis in today’s case, however, is a decade of economic decline, and it encompasses the breadth of Russia. It’s estimated over 300,000 street children are in Russia.
Homeless children in Russia have good reason to distrust the adults in their lives. Many of them were abandoned by their parents – some directly to state orphanages out of economic necessity; some through neglect and abuse that causes the children to run away.
One boy was told by his father that he was not allowed to spend the night at home if he did not return with a bottle of vodka. Other children simply fall through the cracks in the Russian legal system. Another boy traveled to Saint Petersburg from Kyrgyzstan with his family. Along the way, the father deserted the family, his infant brother died en route, and his mother was sentenced to seven years in prison for assault. Now the boy is trapped in a government shelter without status, ineligible to go into a Russian orphanage.
Once on the street, children develop a sense of power in providing for themselves, a sense of belonging in the street culture that they create, and a distrust of adults. The institutions and orphanages offered by adults are not perceived as alternatives, but as shelters of last resort to be used temporarily in times of dire need. Such places are under-financed and understaffed, and often just provide shelter and mediocre food. When living on the streets homeless children are driven by the need for immediate gratification. Once their immediate physical needs for food and shelter are met, they look for something to take away physical and emotional pain – drugs and alcohol being the most common solution. Engaged in crime and drug abuse, the children risk falling into more abusive and threatening situations such as prison.
SunErgos partners with Saint Petersburg Government Shelters to help children with their basic needs. Through summer camps and weekly visits, SunErgos Staff and Volunteers share warmth, food and hope with those that have been abused and abandoned by their close family and friends.