Homeless in Latvia: Tax debts, casual roughing up, no help for alcoholics

Homeless people are subjected to violence during GP visits and stints at shelters, LTV show Forbidden methods has found in its most recent investigation aired June 4. In addition, some of them are involved in tax schemes and, legally at least, own companies with huge tax debts.  

The show accompanied 43-year-old Gunārs, who makes a living panhandling on the street, on a visit to a general physician. Gunča has been long afflicted with a trophic ulcer. Other homeless people, including one Edgars, claimed to the show that Gunča's GP had turned him down after he complained of stomach pain.

Forbidden methods found that Gunārs cannot receive free healthcare because he actually owns seven companies, with a total tax debt of €130,000. Firms registered using homeless people's passports are often used in inventive tax evasion schemes.

After receiving some money from the show, Gunārs went to the GP, who refused to bandage his leg. "Bandage it yourself. Why should I do that?" the GP said.

The doctor was not impressed by Gunārs' offer of money, and when it turned out he's in fact a registered patient at her practice and so the doctor should service him, she pointed out he's drunk - a violation of code - and had a guard remove him from the premises.

Bizarre religious happenings at night shelter

The show also looked into the Red Cross shelter on Gaiziņa street, often criticized by homeless people. Altogether there are five homeless shelters for men and four for females in Rīga. But the one on Gaiziņa street is the most frequented, because it's central and people who are drunk can stay on the first floor. It's here the police take people who are found drunk on the street.

An undercover journalist went inside the homeless shelter wearing rather smelly clothes. 

At 9 p.m. food is served. There are about 50 people eating a macaroni-like dish. Afterwards, people disperse across the three-story building. To live there, you mustn't drink. The first two months are free, but afterwards each day costs €2.20. 

Meanwhile the journalist observed a guard roughing people up. He casually kicked a homeless person, who was sober and therefore should have gone to a different room to sleep. Those who are drunk sleep in a separate room, and needless to say it reeks.

There's a single toilet on the first floor, a shabby shower and no towel. It's rare they have a change of clothes for all people.

But one thing that isn't lacking are preachers from an unidentified congregation.

"The dog is returning... The dog eats its own vomit, just as you do. You repent and you drink again, you eat your own vomit. The dog eats its own vomit. Having washed itself, the swine waddles in the mud again. That's who you are. You're like the swine that has washed itself and then waddles in the mud," a preacher said, inexplicably. 

The show concludes it's near impossible to get real social help if one cannot stop drinking. 

Statistics show Rīga's shelters are getting less populated over time. In May 2012, there were 417 people living there but 403 last May. 

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