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Russia: Newspaper For St. Petersburg's Homeless Gets Boost

St. Petersburg, 12 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's only newspaper for the homeless, St. Petersburg's 'Na dne' (Down and Out), has been given a helping hand to solve one of its most pressing problems. Last week, officials from the British Know How Fund donated state-of-the-art desk-top publishing computer equipment and accessories to modernize and speed up the publishing process. Na dne is published by Nochlezhka, St. Petersburg's leading charity helping the homeless.

The gift -- valued at $ 12,500 -- was purchased under a special British Consulate's technical-assistance program, which supports the transition to democracy and a market economy in former Soviet-bloc countries. Since its founding in 1989, the "Know How Fund," as its more commonly called, has dispersed 230-million British Pounds throughout the former Soviet bloc.

In the past, most of the Fund's grants have been in the areas of finance, energy, agriculture, small business and health. Tony Faint, the Fund's director for Eastern Europe, told our correspondent that "the grant to Nochlezhka was the first assistance to a non-governmental organization (NGO) in St. Petersburg, and came under what he called, the "good government program." Faint said NGOs have made a big contribution to the reform process, namely -- to build a civil society.

Na dne's Chief Editor, Marina Dmitrieva, told our correspondent the gift will speed up the publishing process, and, as she put it, "now we won't spend so much time fighting with the computer."

Nochlezhka was founded in 1990 by Valeri Sokolov - still the current director -- to provide material and legal assistance to the city's homeless. Up until recently, it was the only NGO helping the city's homeless. Na dne was founded by Nochlezhka in 1994 to inform the public about the problem of homelessness, and to give the homeless a means of earning income, since most do not have a city residence permit which is necessary to find work.

The homeless get to keep 80 percent of what they sell, with the rest going to cover costs. Dmitrieva says that Na dne is a chance for the homeless to do something to help themselves and get back on their feet. For example, money from the sale of Na dne is Mamkhetdin Saufulin's primary source of income. He says it allows him to earn some money to have something to eat.

Despite this opportunity, only about 100 homeless sell the paper. Larissa Petrova, a Nochlezhka social worker, told our correspondent there are many good reasons why they forgo the opportunity. First and foremost, she said, is the fear of the police who often chase them away. Nochlezhka says it has recently concluded an unwritten agreement with the police not to touch those selling Na dne, but word seems to travel slowly down to the cop on the beat.

The inspiration to publish Na dne came in 1993 after seeing a copy of "The Big Issue in Scotland," a Scottish newspaper for the homeless. The name was taken from Maxim Gorky's 1901 play, "Na dne", about life in Moscow's most notorious slum, The Khitrov Market. Also, for one year only, in 1912, Gorky published a newspaper in Moscow by the same name.

Since its founding, Na dne has itself been down-and-out, surviving on sporadic donations from well-wishers, nearly all of them from Europe. At one point, because of a lack of funds, the newspaper closed down for six months. With help from Great Britain, Germany and Finland, it is now published regularly every 20 days, with a circulation of 20,000.

(Editor's Note: 'Na dne' is on the Internet at: