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‘Homeless Story’

How students help people and animals in the street

@ Nagima Adasbaeva

New socially important initiatives are evolving at HSE University. ‘Homeless Story’ (Bezdomnaya Istoria) is in its second year of operation. The students involved share homeless people’s stories, speak about the challenges they face, and help abandoned animals. The main goal of the project is to change the perception of those who have ended up on the street.

We asked Gleb Serebrennikov, leader of the Homeless Story, to tell us how the project started and developed, and we talked to some of the other participants about why they decided to join the project and what they do there.

How did you come up with the idea of this project?

Gleb: This happened during my freshman year, when during one of the courses, we had an assignment to invent ways of media coverage for the problem of homelessness. I had an idea for a project that would share stories from the lives of homeless people. Both my teachers and classmates liked it, which inspired me, and the next day, I went to take the first interview.

Why did you decide to join the team?

Ekaterina: I saw a post on Gleb’s wall about his new project, which gave me a great deal of inspiration. I immediately understood that the Homeless Story is ‘my story’. I am very aware of this social problem, and if I can do something kind and useful, I can’t stay away.

Maria: It is always nice to be part of a team of like-minded people who are willing to contribute to the development of our society.

Julia: I joined the Homeless Story just recently, in September. I heard about it from a friend. He said that it is a project that combines a superb team and a great idea, and this proved to be true.

Arina: This project doesn’t spread itself too thin by trying to help everyone on the planet. It has a clear focus: homeless people and animals. That’s why it is good at helping. Furthermore, many people are willing to help kids or animals, but are more reluctant to help homeless people. Homeless Story is maybe the only project that is trying not only to help, but to change the global attitude towards those who don’t have a home.

How did it all start? What was your first step?

Gleb: It started with the first interview. At first, I didn’t know how to approach a person in the street, how to start the conversation. But I succeeded, and even took a photo of Uncle Sasha, as he introduced himself. Then, I created an Instagram account and added the first story.

Deni: I got to know the Homeless Story last year, when, as a second-year student, I decided to find a project to participate in. I looked through the Project Fair, chose several interesting ones, and then found out that Gleb, my classmate, was founder of one of them, Homeless Story.

It was probably then when I decided to take a chance on this project, which helps us to not only earn credits, but to take part in an important social mission. From the very beginning, I have been writing stories and materials about the homeless. I think that my first story was a text about renowned actors who live in the street.

Read more

Six student charity associations are active at HSE University. We have talked to our students and alumni about their experience in charity.

What are you doing today?

Gleb: We’ve changed the concept a bit. We started talking about homeless animals and providing real help: we have visited Domashny and Iskra shelters twice to help and walk the dogs, while previously we had only provided coverage of the problem. Soon, we are going to organize clothes-collecting events. When the winter comes, we are going to give out hot drinks to homeless people in the streets. We are also going to visit the animal shelters again.

Is your team big? How do you organize your work?

Glem: There are 20 of us. There are some people in permanent positions: SMM specialists and photographers. We recruit other participants for specific tasks, such as when we organize an event, forming a team that is fully responsible for it.

Deni: I’ve experienced a kind of career growth over this year. Recently, I have become editor-in-chief of our little media project. But I immediately warned the other authors that this position is nominal and gives me no right to avoid the journalistic side of our work

We distribute the tasks evenly, but I edit their texts in addition and try to solve any organizational issues. I am really very grateful to the guys that they trust me and don’t limit me in implementing by ideas. So, I have only positive emotions related to this project. Furthermore, this is a great chance to do something really meaningful.

Julia: Glen and Arina are very good curators; they did an excellent job distributing the key tasks and positions at the first introductory meeting. I decided to be responsible for the visual part of our stories (photos and videos), as well as putting together questions for interviews if needed. My first task was to organize and provide coverage of our visit to a cat and dog shelter. We walked the dogs, and we neeeded to film this process. We also interviewed the volunteers.

Ekaterina: Last year, I administrated our group on VK. Now, I don’t have any permanent responsibilities, but there are tasks that seem interesting and that I’m willing to perform. For example, recently I interviewed a homeless man, and organized a trip to the shelter. I enjoy this a lot, particularly in terms of helping animals.

What is the most interesting part of this project for you?

Maria: People who are indifferent to this problem begin changing their attitude to the homeless after reading a few stories on our project.

Arina: I am thrilled to learn new facts and stories from the world of those who offer free help to those in need. We talk to the homeless, volunteers, and charity organizers. These communications have changed my values and views completely.

How do you find your subjects?

Gleb: We simply go to railway stations and underground passages. We have gone to soup kitchens and the warm shed organized by Miloserdie in winter.

Not everyone agrees to talk about themselves right away. Some of them don’t want their families to see their stories, while others refuse because they don’t believe in accepting any help. But most people talk willingly, and we usually talk to them for 30 or 40 minutes.

What has been most memorable over these two years?

Gleb: Each story is unique… Probably, my first interview was the most memorable, since it was a mold-breaker. You start seeing the situation from the inside, to understand what problems the homeless face. You see how many organizations offer their help, while we don’t pay any attention at this in our everyday lives.

The same happens with homeless animals: you see the number of pedigree dogs in the shelters, and can’t understand why this is happening.

What do you think is the main goal of your project?

Gleb: Our mission is to talk about the problem of homelessness and about the fact that it can’t be ignored. We try to set our own example by organizing charity events.

Maria: It is important to understand that not all homeless people are alcoholics, and many of them are victims of circumstances that are beyond their control. We are trying to break this stereotype, at least among people of our age.

Arina: The project does real things that help humans and animals that most people don’t care about. We are merely doing our small bit to make this world a better place.

Julia: I hope we will stop dividing people into socially acceptable and unacceptable. It is important to understand that all humans are humans, no matter how they look. Everyone deserves to be respected and accepted.

What are your further plans?

Gleb: We are going to become an officially registered student association, in order to invite speakers from charities to deliver lectures, to organize more events, and to expand the audience of our project.

How can people help your project?

Gleb: Follow us on Instagram and VK. This way, more people will hear about us, which means they might change their view of the problems of the homeless.  You can also contact us and offer any help: if you have any ideas for cooperation, we are always open!

How can people become part of your team?

Gleb: If you are interested in what we are doing, and you want to become part of this socially important project, contact me on VK or on our community page. Today, we particularly need designers and people who can shoot and edit videos from our events.

By Ekaterina Egorycheva

October 14, 2019