The Armenian government has pledged to catch up on a commitment to provide accommodation for over-18s who were brought up in children’s homes.
By law, the state has a duty of care to children’s home residents after they leave as young adults, including the provision of rent-free accommodation. A past scheme suffered setbacks, and the queue for housing has been steadily lengthening by at least 30 a year to reach over 300, according to the labour and social affairs ministry.
Lilit Avetisyan left a children’s home in the eastern town of Gavar in 2006, and has been waiting for state housing ever since.
“I’ve been in the queue for an apartment since 2007, but I don’t believe I’ll ever get one,” she said.
Avetisyan is still living in temporary accommodation provided by the Our Home charity in Echmiadzin, under an arrangement originally intended to last only until she finished studying for a degree.
“My deadline [to leave] passed in 2010. That’s two extra years I’ve been living here,” she said. “I work in a print shop and earn about 40,000 drams a month [around 100 US dollars]. I can’t even consider renting a flat on that money.”
While some like Avetisyan are housed by charities, others simply stay on at children’s homes beyond the age of 18.
Nikolai Nalbandyan, head of the Gavar home, says four of the residents are too old to be there.
“They aren’t on the register, but they have nowhere they can go, and we can’t throw them out onto the streets,” he said.
Under a government programme launched in 2003 to provide homes for former children in care, 149 out of the 503 people deemed eligible were given flats in the first five years. But the scheme was halted in 2008 after the national audit chamber raised concerns, alleging that more than 1.2 billion drams, or around three million dollars, had been embezzled.
“The people running the programme not only pocketed the money, they also economised by buying cheap, useless housing,” Anahit Bakhshyan of the opposition Heritage Party said. “Shameless officials got rich on this money and they still haven’t been punished.”
The Armenian government has now launched a new programme under which it will fund the construction of purpose-built blocks, instead of buying existing apartments as it did under the old scheme. The homes will be available to pensioners, disabled people and war veterans as well as those brought up in care.
Tenants will live rent-free for ten years, and will then be charged the market rate, or allowed to buy the property if they can afford it.
Anna Mnatsakanyan, head of a state programme to assist adults who grew up in children’s homes, described the initiative as a “social housing fund”.
Apartments have already been provided in the town of Maralik in the northwestern Shirak region, where the state took over and converted a number of half-complete buildings.
Anahit Gevorgyan, head of the department for disabled and elderly people at the labour and social affairs ministry, told IWPR that the 59 apartments in Maralik had provided accommodation for 103 people, including 27 from children’s homes.
“At the moment, we are working with the municipal government to provide these former children’s home residents with work,” she added.
The new residents include Artur Karchikyan, a 21-year-old who is one of three former residents of the Gavar home now living in Maralik.
“The main thing for me is to get a flat, no matter where,” he said. “The next thing is to find work.”
Several more apartment blocks in various parts of Armenia are scheduled for completion by the end of this year.
Tigranuhi Karapetyan, head of the Our Home group, said placing these young adults in accommodation and leaving them to get on with life was insufficient.
“They give them somewhere to live and say, ‘There you are, go and live there’. But if a fisherman is to catch fish, you give him a rod, not a fish,” she said.
Karapetyan said it was important for these young people to live in an environment where there was a normal social mix including families.
In addition, she said, “The state must also provide them with work, so that they can live independently and pay their way.”
Gayane Mkrtchyan is a reporter for ArmeniaNow.com.