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On 26 April 2014, Tbilisi mayoral candidate for the Georgian Dream coalition, Davit Narmania, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of his pre-election campaign and spoke about the issue of homeless people in Tbilisi. According to Narmania’s statement, the homeless need special attention from the state but their plight and the problems they face have been neglected for years in Georgia. The very first shelter for homeless people was opened in 2013 while Narmania himself was running the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia.

FactCheck

decided to investigate the accuracy of the abovementioned statement.

According to the Law of Georgia on Social Aid, a homeless person is defined as an individual without a permanent definite place to live and is registered at the local self-government office as a homeless person. According to Article 18 of the abovementioned law the local municipalities and self-governing units are responsible for registering the homeless as well as providing them with all necessary care.

Further, FactCheck

would also like to define the meaning of a shelter. A shelter is a provider of a social service that guarantees a roof at night and food for the homeless. More precisely, a homeless person is someone who lives on the street, in a public place, in a homeless shelter or any other hand-made place for living. The problem of homeless people is of an enormous complexity for the state. State social security and assistance programmes do not actually target these people since most of the homeless do not have identification cards which then precludes the state from being able to provide them with the legal status of a socially unprotected person.

Official statistics concerning homeless people residing in Tbilisi are not in fact available although Narmania cited the official number at about 300.

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also inquired about the programmes being carried out by the state and the City Council for providing assistance to the homeless. The research revealed one of the programmes implemented jointly by Tbilisi City Hall and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) – the so-called Social Housing Programme. Of note is the fact that there is another category of homeless people which consists of families who lost their homes due to various reasons and now live in poor conditions. The main beneficiaries of the Social Housing Programme are this category of ‘newly homeless’ people, large families and IDPs. Within the framework of this programme, six social houses and two blocks were built in 2007-2012 in the Didi Dighomi and Varketili suburbs of Tbilisi. A total of 76 socially unprotected and homeless families were accommodated in the abovementioned facilities although the Social Housing Programme was not targeted at people living in the street and without possession of ID cards.

In the same period free meals provided with the support of Tbilisi City Hall were available in all city districts with a target of mainly socially unprotected, large families, pensioners and people with disabilities. The free meals were specifically targeted for homeless people beginning in December 2012 in response to an unseasonably cold winter.

After two homeless people died in Tbilisi due to the unseasonal winter weather, former Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, initiated the building of special temporary shelters for protecting the homeless from the elements; in addition, free meals continued to be supplied with some of the facilities offering beds as well. The shelters were located at the following addresses:  19 Tsagareli Street in the Vake-Saburtalo district, 4 Vani Street in the Didube-Chughureti district, Kindergarten No. 209, 3 m/r in Zemo Ponichala in the Isani-Samgori district, 33 Guramishvili Street in the Gldani-Nadzaladevi district and 23 Petriashvili Street in Old Tbilisi. Based upon the information of the former Head of the Office of Social Service and Cultural Affairs of Tbilisi City Hall, Mamuka Katsarava, the free meal facilities were used as shelters for one time only and covered only the period of the severe winter weather of December 2012.

In December 2012 a winter tent was pitched for homeless people in the 9 April Park in Tbilisi. This campaign was initiated by NGOs and concerned citizens.

As for the measures carried out by the government in 2013-2014 for supporting and providing the homeless with shelters, they are as follows:  a shelter programme for homeless people throughout the country was initiated based upon Resolution No. 1946 of the Government of Georgia on Urgent Measures for Helping Homeless People in Winter of 2013-2014, dated 13 December 2013. Based upon the initiative of the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, former Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development of Georgia, Davit Narmania, convened an Interdepartmental Temporary Committee for Problems of Homeless People.

According to Resolution No. 1946 and with the assistance of the aforementioned agencies, a temporary shelter was built with the capacity of 230 people on Moscow Avenue. The tents which were provided gave the homeless two meals a day, heating, electricity, personal care and household products and medical care. In addition, an ambulance was on duty as well as sanitary service and administrative control which were implemented 24 hours a day. A total of 210 people spent the winter in these shelters. The patrol police was responsible in the main for taking homeless people from the streets to the shelters. At the same time information and support hot lines were enacted.

Different from the one-time measures taken in the previous years, the shelter established in 2013-2014 on Moscow Avenue is still functioning. In parallel, according to the proposition of the Interdepartmental Temporary Committee for Problems of Homeless People, a long-term shelter project entailing the construction of a permanent facility has also been planned with the building of the shelter having already started up in the Lilo district. Based upon the information of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development of Georgia, the temporary shelter located on Moscow Avenue will be demolished and the people living there will be moved to the permanent shelter in Lilo once it is completed. According to the project, the long-term shelter aimed at 240 beneficiaries will be equipped with a food kitchen, a medical unit, outdoor lighting and fixed access ramps.

Conclusion While verifying Davit Narmania’s statement, FactCheck

found out that the provisional shelter organised by the Interdepartmental Temporary Committee for Problems of Homeless People on Moscow Avenue in 2013 is not in fact the first attempt to protect homeless people during periods of severe winter weather conditions. The former Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, also initiated the creation of short-term shelters for homeless people inside free meal facilities during the unseasonably cold winter of December 2012. However, this process was neither planned nor initiated by state agencies in advance and were intended for a short time period only.

Other measures carried out by the self-government of Tbilisi before 2013, such as the Social Housing Programme, were not specifically targeting the most vulnerable group of homeless people living permanently on the street.

The state allocated more resources for helping and providing the homeless with shelters in 2013-2014. Different from the measures carried out in 2012, the shelter located on Moscow Avenue was a systemic one planned beforehand, funded by the state budget and provided these people with a place to stay at night, food, heating, medical care and personal safety. Based upon the initiative of the Interdepartmental Temporary Committee for Problems of Homeless People, the programme of assistance targeting homeless people turned into a long-term project which was different from the measures taken in previous years. Apart from the short-term shelter on Moscow Avenue, a long-term shelter for homeless people in the Didi Lilo area is being constructed. After the construction is finished, the inhabitants of the short-term shelter will be moved to the permanent housing.

Considering all the aforementioned information, FactCheck concludes that Davit Narmania’s statement: “The very first shelter for homeless people was opened only in 2013,” is MOSTLY TRUE.