Making rights a reality for the homeless

This is the story of Mihail, who prefers not to be identified by his surname:

Two homeless men picking up rubbish in Jalal-Abad, Southern Kyrgyzstan. © OHCHR PhotoThe 59-year-old was alone and homeless. His wife and children left for Russia and lost touch with him. After the death of his parents, his sister persuaded him to sell their apartment in Jalal-Abad, Southern Kyrgyzstan. With the money, Mihail was supposed to get a smaller place so that his sister could get an apartment for herself. She, however, left the country with all the money. And he became homeless.

Mihail squatted in the basement of the building where he used to live. It was practically a concrete box with four walls without a window. He used to work but later had an operation on his knees which left him disabled. He was not yet entitled to the old age pension but could no longer work to support himself.

However, within a month Mihail was helped to go through all the required medical and social examinations to establish a disability status for him. This allowed him to start receiving social benefits to provide for his basic needs.

Mihail is one of the over hundred beneficiaries of a new project by the Public Association of Social Protection of the Population (OOSZN), a non-governmental organization in Kyrgyzstan working to protect the economic and social rights of the marginalized groups in society.

With the support of the United Nations Human Rights office, OOSZN started a project last year focusing on the right to adequate housing of the most marginalized groups in Jalal-Abad, in particular the homeless.

Among them are people who do not have a birth certificate. They usually have no identity documents and hence are excluded from social services. They have no access to medical services, cannot vote or take part in public decision-making.

When both families and the social welfare system have failed to resolve their situation, OOSZN has extended its key services, such as providing legal assistance in restoring identity documents and obtaining social benefits, representing them in dealing with local authorities, and advocating for the establishment of shelters for the homeless.

These are necessary steps to help realize their basic human rights such as the rights to health, education and adequate housing. In addition to providing practical assistance to individuals, OOSZN also conducted a survey to assess the living conditions of the homeless in Jalal-Abad. It is now working with the local authorities to improve the situation.

“We feel very happy when we manage to help someone in great need, like Mihail. We are even happier now, after the Jalal-Abad city administration has managed to allocate funds from the local and national budgets to start refurbishing an old building to make the first shelter for homeless persons in Jalal-Abad,” says Kanybaev Sadyrbek, the lawyer of the project.

5 April 2011