The book is both a broad account of homelessness as a growing social problem following the fall of the Soviet Union and a detailed description of people’s attempt to survive physically as well as, in their own words, ”as humans” in a situation embodying extreme social stigmatization and exposure.
Without a registration at a permanent address, a Russian person lacks civil rights such as social or medical insurances or, above all, a work permit. Nor do alternative forms of support such as subsidies or shelters exist. Still there are possibilities to survive in the widespread “shadow economy” and in the equally unregulated urban landscape with its unlocked attics and basements, but always at the chronic risk of exploitation and violence since the lack of government control that makes survival possible simultaneously implies a complete loss of legal protection.
The homeless themselves summarize their situation as being “needed by nobody”, because homelessness is, above all, a question about social relations. A reliable network of family and friends is the only functioning social safety net, and it is also in the company of these ‘close ones’ that people perceive themselves to have a raison d’être. Homelessness is always related to deficiencies in these vital networks, at the same time as existing relations are destroyed by extreme exposure and homelessness. Even if other homeless people constitute a certain support, this community of sorts is too unpredictable and permeated by distrust to be an alternative. To the homeless, human dignity finally becomes a question about not going under entirely, which is primarily manifested in keeping oneself clean – a capacity that, according to the main characters of this book, hardly constitutes a ticket back to the world of “real people”, but at least you know yourself that you deserve a place among other humans.
Title of the dissertation: Needed by Nobody: Homelessness, Humiliation, and Humanness in Post-Socialist Russia.
Tova Höjdestrand, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org