According to official estimates, Russia has about 4.5 million homeless people. Today, this problem has become much more visible than it used to be and consequently the degree of stigmatization and marginalization of homeless people by the surrounding society has increased. The legal and social set-up in Russia ties almost all social benefits to the residence permit 'propiska' a document which can only be issued to people with valid personal identification papers, confirming their Russian citizenship, as well as a fixed, permanent address. Moreover, the 'propiska' follows the home rather than the resident, which means that if you lose your house/flat you automatically lose your 'propiska'. Without 'propiska' you cannot obtain a working permit and you have no access to the formal labour market. Furthermore, you do not have access to the public health system, nor can you receive pensions or other social benefits to which you would normally be entitled. You cannot register to vote, and it is extremely difficult to take legal action and file law suits without it, since cases are supposed to be registered in the same area you are a resident. Thus, you are caught in a vicious downward spiral and it becomes very difficult to escape homelessness and get re-integrated into society. In actual fact, without 'propiska' you become 'non-existent' in the Russian society, and your status is that of a pariah.
The Russian NGO Nochlezhka is one of the few organizations dealing with homeless people in Russia. In the period 1994-1996, Nochlezhka made a survey for the public health authorities, which revealed that at least 54,000 people in St Petersburg lacked 'propiska'. At present, the number is probably considerably higher.