TBILISI, Georgia — A nation at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is the site of many civilizations that have come to pass. Tourists from around the globe flock to the former Soviet state for its 12th-century monasteries, Colchian artifacts and its winemaking regions. Georgia’s transition to a free-market economy after seceding from the Soviet Union in 1991 visibly improved Georgia’s economy. Although it is now one of Eastern Europe’s fastest-growing economies, it endures growing pains that typically accompany swift financial development. Homelessness in Georgia is one of these growing pains. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of this problem, specifically in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Here are four facts about homelessness in Georgia.
4 Facts About Homelessness in Georgia
There’s no official tally on the homeless population in Georgia as of April 2020. They discovered this when the nation enforced a nationwide curfew to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, the homeless are unable to abide by these rules. Because they live on the streets, their risk of catching the disease is higher than that of the non-homeless populace. Nino Lomjaria, Georgia’s Public Defender, noted that 19 of Georgia’s 67 municipalities lack programs meant to help Georgians who are living on the street.
Homeless people in the capital receive shelter in the winter. Since December 2013, Georgia has set up tents in Tbilisi’s Moscow Square to provide housing for the homeless during the harsh winters. Organizations outside of the government raised awareness about the issue of the cold during the winter. The Government of Georgia responded by announcing that these tents would remain available for anyone with nowhere to go. Since Tbilisi City Hall heads the construction, these tents are permanent shelters that uphold the optimal hygiene standards.
In Tbilisi alone, squatters occupy more than 400 buildings. At least 10,000 families reside within these 401 buildings. These families are faced with a difficult choice. They can risk the legal repercussions of living in abandoned buildings or live a harsher life on the streets. For these families, many of whom are refugees, the former is a better option. The need to get off of the streets led to thousands of families living in these buildings.
Squatters are fighting for their voices to be heard. By the time the Georgian elections occurred in 2016, inhabitants of abandoned buildings, particularly the Cardiological Institute in Tbilisi, were facing their fifth consecutive winter without a place to live. The government did respond to them by providing electricity to certain buildings. However, the squatters remained unconvinced that this was nothing more than a paltry move to buy their silence and they continued to protest.
Georgia as a modern nation is still relatively young. Yet, it has made huge strides financially, becoming an upper-middle economy in the 29 years since independence. Its presence in the Persian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine records is a testament to its centuries-old legacy and resilience. However, homelessness in Georgia still remains an issue. A nationwide count, as well as initiatives to help homelessness at a structural level, are potential starting points in eliminating homelessness in Georgia.
– Faven Woldetatyos