They are in every big city: dirty, unkempt, dressed in ragged clothing. They live in the street in frost and heat, all of their property consists of several plastic bags or a trolley of junk found on the buckets. No one knows how many homeless people live in Bulgaria, there is no formal definition of who they are or a strategy to work with them. In recent years, the state and municipalities have created so-called Centers for Temporary Residence of Homeless People in Larger Cities. In Ruse, at the municipality’s initiative, Caritas Ruse is committed to creating and maintaining a shelter for homeless people.
The shelter is located in the former transport school “Stefan Karadzha”, in Trakiya municipal district. This is an area at the end of the city, known as the “Roma neighborhood”. As soon as you enter the building, there is a specific smell. One employee smiles and says: “Most of our users have not bathed for years, they need time to get to normal hygiene habits.” The capacity of the shelter is 60 people, with vacancies being difficult to find. Here the homeless receive shelter, food, care for hygiene. They are offered psychological and legal assistance. Most of them have no personal documents. Martin Nikolov, the shelter manager, says many of the homeless people who come here have serious psychological disorders. “Reasons are both the difficult life they have led, and the heavy dependence on alcohol with some of them. There are people – he says – who have spent 10-15 years on the street.” The purpose of working with them is to be able to reintegrate. A task that Martin regards as quite difficult in some cases. He explains that many people have lost all sorts of work habits. Some of them can not even serve themselves, it is difficult for them to communicate with others. So, slowly, together with their collaborators, they try to get them back to normality. “We have an occupational therapy,” says the shelter manager. “We ask them to dig in the yard, we intend to make a small garden and create something like a workshop,” he adds.
The shelter assistants are young boys willing to work. They are proud of the progress made by some of the visitors. All inhabitants, of different ages, are clean and tidy. They live in rooms of two or three people, and there are several families. There are many reasons that forced them to live on the street. Ivan Petrov is 67 years old, the bank has taken his home because, left without employment, he could not repay the loan. He has relatives abroad, but says he does not want to worry them. According to him, the shelter conditions are very good. Another shelter occupant, Mincho Daskalov, aged 59, tells him that he has been on the street for 15 years. He lived at the bus station, at the train station, in the subway. He warns the street is dangerous. There are deaths. In Ruse, winter temperatures fall to minus 20 degrees and some die of cold. His words are confirmed by 48-year-old Darinka. “It is even scarier for homeless women,” she says. She worked in the mail and as a seamstress, but she did not want to tell her how she emerged on the street. She is very pleased with the atmosphere at the shelter. She says employees are very polite.
Anna is of Roma origin and lives in the shelter with her husband and son. She does not know how old she is, but says she is expecting a child. She tells how they first bred cows, but then the owner sold them. Her husband is employed from time to time. She is worried about how they will live when their right to reside at the shelter expires. Their camper is brought to the yard, but she realizes that it will be difficult to raise a baby there.
“The main problem,” explains the head of the shelter Martin Nikolov, “is that, by law, people have the right to stay for not more than six months within one year at the shelter.” In his view, it is almost impossible for them to find employment and integrate completely. “Some show progress and it is time to go.”
The shelter is called “The Good Samaritan”. Author of the idea is the bishop of Nikopol Eparchy, H.E. Petko Hristov, because the year of 2012, when the shelter was opened, is the year of “The Good Samaritan”. Both the Good Samaritan and the clergy at the shelter, according to the bishop, should help their neighbors, especially those who are in need, such as the homeless.
“There have been shelters for stray dogs in Bulgaria for a long time,” says Martin Nikolov, “but there are shelters for homeless people only from recently.” He and his team people, however, do not lose hope and are already making plans for new initiatives to help their homeless in the normal world.