Difference Maker

'Dr. Liza' heads a free clinic that helps Moscow's homeless and hopeless

From her clinic, Elizaveta Glinka and her volunteers give food, clothing, medicine, and other help to Moscow's homeless.

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    Elizaveta Glinka, in her free Moscow clinic, works with a team of volunteers to give medications, food, clothes, and other goods to the city’s homeless. ‘I want to help patients who have no faith’ that they can recover, says Dr. Glinka.
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Elizaveta Glinka quit her job at a medical clinic to start her own clinic and treat homeless people and seriously ill patients free of charge in Moscow.

Also a blogger and a charity activist, she's a doctor who gives hope to those who have lost it.

All three roles merge in this tiny lady. Every day she comes to a basement office on Pyatnitskaya Street in Moscow, the office from which her charity fund operates.

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"I want to help patients who have no faith" that they can recover, says Dr. Glinka, or Dr. Liza, as she is known.

In 1986 she received a degree as an emergency physician from the First Moscow Medical State University. That same year she immigrated with her husband to the United States, but the couple later returned to Russia.

Her first experience in the charity field dates to 1999, when she started the first private hospice in Kiev, Ukraine. Eight years later Glinka created a charity fund in Moscow called "Just Help," which aids seriously ill patients, homeless people, and poor families.

Glinka and her volunteers give medications, food, clothes, and other goods to those who cannot afford them.

Several years ago she started a blog with the nickname "doctor_liza" to promote the activities of her organization. In 2010 she was named blogger of the year in the Russian Internet contest ROTOR.

"People often ask me why I am doing this. It's hard to explain. I just like this job," Glinka says.

Tatiana, a volunteer for the past three years, describes Glinka as "a person who cannot pass by when she sees someone in trouble."

Some time ago one of Tatiana's daughters died in a car accident. The other survived but was severely injured.

"Our grief brought us together. Dr. Liza's mother was ill; my daughter was suffering. That's how we got close," she says.

"Just Help" is a private effort that doesn't receive any financial aid from the Russian government. Glinka has never asked for government aid as she appreciates her financial independence.

Although now she holds the title of executive director, she still treats patients, feeds homeless people, and listens to the problems of those in need.

The organization operates thanks to charity and the money invested by Glinka's team. She doesn't know the exact number of people helping her, but there are about seven volunteers who work on a regular basis at the organization's office.

Glinka gave up her job in the medical clinic to devote all her time to charity work and her own clinic, which costs between $10,000 and $13,000 a month to run.

All sorts of people come to the basement offices on Pyatnitskaya Street. Among them: poor retirees, homeless alcoholics who want to fight their addiction, and lonely people in trouble.

Alexandra Leonidovna is raising her four children alone. She has no money to buy food, so she decided to turn to Glinka's "Just Help" fund.

"It's a wonderful charity fund," Ms. Leonidovna says. "It's good that you get the things you really need. I don't know what I would do if the fund didn't exist."

The fund also provides help to the homeless.

Every Wednesday two cars set off from Pyatnitskaya Street to Paveletsky railway station to provide food and medical care to people who have no place to live; usually about 200 homeless people show up to take advantage of the free services.

Some find out about Glinka's fund from their friends; others read about the Wednesday lunches in a booklet given out at a nearby church.

"We hand out soap, toothpaste, medications, provide first aid. We help them ... start a normal life," Glinka says.

On the other days of the week, the homeless must try to find help elsewhere.

A few years ago the government created a unified record-keeping system in which all the homeless people who have come to the government for help are registered. Currently, the number of homeless in the system is 12,715. The number grows every year and has doubled since 2009.

But it's difficult to estimate the actual number of homeless here. Unofficial estimates vary from 10,000 to 100,000. In Moscow eight government agencies share responsibility for them, all part of the department of social security for citizens living in the Russian capital.

Since 2004, Moscow has decided to allocate some money from the city budget to pay transportation expenses for those homeless people who want to go back to their homes outside the city. However, this hasn't solved the homelessness problem.

Glinka's fund is one of several private organizations that try to make the lives of homeless people here a little bit easier.

Meanwhile, she confesses she doesn't have any big plans for the future. She wants to continue what she is doing. "I decided not to make plans," she says. "The money I have is not getting more, and the number of patients is constantly increasing."

She hopes to find enough funds to carry on with her activities. She loves her job and wouldn't change it for another.

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