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Hovhannesyan, 64, lives on Kazbegi Street in Rabati with her sister’s daughter, Eleanora Hovhannesyan, 30. The only room that they live in is almost destroyed. Light comes into the room from cracks in the wall, and a section of the roof is missing. The only furniture in the room is one metal bed, several small drawers, a stove, two chairs, and firewood stacked for drying.
There is no electrical supply. The state of the roof means that it leaks, making it impossible to arrange for wiring to be installed. The Hovhannesyans make do with candles in the evening, and try not to let the fire in the stove die, as the room will become just as cold as outside.
‘This wall was also collapsing and so we moved the bed so that it didn’t collapse on us. We’ve stacked some boxes there. However no matter where we put the bed, the roof leaks everywhere, especially if it’s raining or snowing outside. As soon as the fire in the stove goes out, we are freezing’, Eleanora told Samkhretis Karibche.
However, it is not possible for them to keep the fire in the stove lit all night, as their monthly income is only ₾300 ($109).
‘My pension is ₾180, while my salary is ₾120. I work at Rabati Castle as a maid, sweeping the place. Sometimes Eleanora helps me. What can I say about food, if we buy something we cook it on this stove and eat’, she says.
Both women grew up in the building, but due to age and damage, one of the rooms and the hall collapsed. Later, there was a fire, and the family moved to an apartment on Guramishvili Street.
‘We used to receive a social allowance — ₾156 a month. Then my aunt began to work as a maid, and the government cancelled our social allowance’, Eleanora says.
They used to pay ₾100 a month for the apartment, but soon Seda’s health worsened and they were no longer able to pay. They temporarily moved in with their neighbors, Nora and Aleksandre Mepisashvilis.
‘That man insulted my aunt and we couldn’t stay there any longer, and we came back to this ruined house’, Eleanora remembers.
She says they never appealed to the social agency to renew their allowance, believing that it would be in vain as the government wouldn’t allocate it anymore. Eleanora did write to the City Hall many times asking for help with the damaged, almost collapsed house.
‘[former mayor Giorgi Kopadze]was still in office. I went there twice. He didn’t meet me, while others asked me to write an application. Then some people came, took pictures saying that they would help, but no one contacted us after that; no one helped us’, Seda says, adding that they still request that the local authorities help them fix the roof or allocate a room for them to shelter in.
Representatives of Akhaltsikhe City Hall confirmed to Samkhretis Karibche that Hovhannesyans appealed to them with a letter, but they say that the local government cannot provide shelter for them.
‘These kinds of families are too many in the city. As for the roof, it cannot be fixed as the house is too damaged’ a spokesperson explained.
The Social Service Agency says that since the family changed their address, the Hovhannesyans can appeal to them once again and ask to revise their case. They also explained that back in 2014 the family hid the fact that they had a legal income.
‘This is why their registration was removed from the database. ₾120 is not much, but they didn’t notify the agency about it, this is why their allowance was withheld for one year. If they had notified us again, we would have calculated again and may have renewed their social allowance’, Tata Gamkrelidze, spokesperson for the Social Service Agency said.
The agency checked the Hovhannesyans case in January 2016, but the family then lived at a different address.
‘There were two retired people in the house. One was Seda Hovhannesyan and the other Alexandre Mepisashvili, and they both received money from the government. One of them was even employed, while a third person, a 29-year-old member of the family, was capable of working’, Gamkrelidze said, explaining that the agency made the decision not to renew the allowance.
Hovhannesyans say that Mepisashvili is not a member of their family. He is the father of their neighbour, whose house they rented when they left their own. They said that the agent of the social service came to check on them when they lived in the Mepisashvlis’ house.