VOA's Russian Service introduced us to Father Vadim two years ago. He opened the first shelter for homeless Russians in Brooklyn, New York. VOA recently met up with Father Vadim again to see how his efforts were impacting the community. Crystal Park narrates.
It has become a habit for Father Vadim Arefyev. Once a week, in the early evening, he and his churchwarden, Georgiy Hololeenko, go through some of the most dangerous places in Russian Brooklyn. They search for the homeless, many of whom are alcoholics and drug addicts, who have come here to spend the night.
"As a rule, our prayers begin right at the car. We pray to stay alive, to be able to leave these slums alive," Father Vadim said.
Brighton Beach in Brooklyn has long become famous outside the United States as a neighborhood favored by Russian immigrants. Brighton is especially popular among those who recently moved to the United States.
Father Vadim Arefyev was upset when he became aware of the homeless problem in the Russian community. "When I first learned there were people dying on the streets, it turned me upside down,” he said. “I thought to myself, it's impossible that in America today, our guys, Orthodox brothers, die on the streets. That can't be true. But when I realized that it's true, it turned me inside out."
As he makes his rounds, Father Vadim invites the men he encounters to his shelter, the St. John Foundation for the Homeless.
Evgeny Deryagin, a former lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army, helps out at the shelter. He credits Father Vadim with helping him to quit drinking. He said, "I am very grateful to fate and those people who can respond to kindness with kindness."
Deryagin says it is a mistake to give up on people who come to the shelter. "Those 60, 70, 80 percent who look at these people as total failures, they're wrong,” he said. “These people are just as capable, with God's help, to get up on their feet and do good for themselves, for those around them and for society.”
Father Vadim says he has encountered hundreds of people during his trips and that people from all walks of life have ended up at his shelter.
The St. John Foundation barely makes ends meet. It does get some help from parishioners' donations and Father Vadim himself, who works as a computer programmer at a large American firm during the day. It also receives some corporate assistance.
Even without much in the way of local donations, Father Vadim plans to increase the center's efforts to help more people. “We want to build a shelter that could house 50 to 70 people. Our quarters are way too small,” he said. “We're stuffed to the brim as it is, especially during the winter months. We try to accommodate as many as we can so they won't freeze, as it happened many times before. We can't take everyone, we don't have room.”
Even without adequate room, Father Vadim will continue looking for people he can help.