By Atom Markarian and Emil Danielyan
The government announced on Thursday plans to open and finance Armenia’s first-ever shelter for a growing number of homeless people that were virtually non-existent in the past.
“We will try to find a building for such an institution and hire personnel that will provide social, psychological and other assistance to this kind of people,” Labor and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
“We will be able to place them there, to give them some assistance,” he said. “To put it more simply, we will wash, dress and treat them.”
Vartanian said the shelters will house not only individuals that have nowhere to live but also victims of domestic violence. He did not elaborate on time frames and financial details of the scheme, saying only that it stems from a draft law on social support which the government will submit to parliament this month.
Homelessness is a relatively new but increasingly visible phenomenon in Armenia and Yerevan in particular. Seeing people scavenging for food or sleeping on the street in the city center was hardly possible just a few years. The Armenian government, including Vartanian’s ministry, as well as international relief organizations present in Armenia have not dealt with the problem until now.
So far it has been largely highlighted by occasional media reports. The most recent and in-depth of them came from Edik Baghdasarian, a prominent investigative journalist who edits the Hetq.am online publication. Baghdasarian and Hetq photojournalist Onnik Krikorian spent several weeks interviewing the homeless and even helping some of them bathe and receive medical treatment.
Baghdasarian also found that at least 30 homeless people have died on the streets of Yerevan this winter, the coldest in years.