Kseniya Kniazeva, is an Honors alumna who is creating a community of support for individuals experiencing homelessness. In the winter of 2020, Kseniya noticed more and more people falling into homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When a particularly bitter freeze came, she sprung to action putting together a supply drive and later creating a nonprofit organization called the Nomad Alliance.
Kseniya bought a bus that functions as a “shelter on wheels” where anyone is welcome to come, have a warm place to sleep, and food to eat. The bus is managed by a team of unsheltered individuals: they cook, clean, turn on the generator, and make sure that people are safe. Kseniya wanted to create an intimate space of support for the unsheltered as many individuals don’t feel comfortable in homeless shelters as a result of rigid regulations such as searching bags, smoking restrictions, and early check-out times. Additionally, many shelters are geared towards supporting women and children, while men have less support. The bus helps individuals feel more comfortable as there is no checking of bags, smoking is allowed, and people can stay as long as they’d like. One man once got on the bus and asked, “what time do I need to leave in the morning?” the bus manager responded, “I don’t know about you, but I’m not waking up until at least 11”.
Nomad Alliance is more than just a warming shelter, it’s a close-knit community of care and support. The Nomad Alliance does all that they can to help individuals get back on their feet. Kseniya shares that there are many things that are holding people back from having a home, working a job, or having adequate transportation. Many individuals don’t have birth certificates, social security cards, or an ID. Some have warrants on their records for trespassing, others need glasses in order to get a driver’s license, some are struggling with mental health challenges or addictions. Kseniya is striving to help individuals get back on their feet by helping them obtain identification documents, holding unemployment workshops, building tiny homes, and helping individuals have access to a community of people who want to support them.
Additionally, it is important to Kseniya that those experiencing homelessness have their individual needs supported. For example, Kseniya recently met an eight and a half month pregnant woman living in a tent while participating in the federal Point in Time Count. When she had some health issues and texted Kseniya she was immediately sent to the hospital; her water broke just as she was discharged, and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Kseniya and her volunteer team were able to collect an abundance of donations for the mother and baby as well as secure a room in a home for them. The mom admits she had never been this happy and stress free. Support from the Nomad Alliance is what she’d always dreamed of.
The Nomad Alliance decided to create a Sexy Nomad Calendar to give dignity and highlight the experiences of unsheltered men. Each month the calendar shows a shirtless man as well as a bio highlighting the individual. Kseniya shared that when a man doesn’t have a shirt you don’t see the rips, the stains, or the brands of his clothes. When you look at these men shirtless they just look like cool guys.
Kseniya is able to personally empathize with the unsheltered community, having spent time as a child homeless, couch-surfing, and living in a domestic violence shelter. As an adult she has lived in a motor home as a result of the burdens of the recent pandemic. Kseniya sees herself as an equal with those experiencing homelessness and considers the people in this community to be some of her greatest friends.
One thing that Kseniya wishes that each person understood about individuals who are unsheltered is that they are just like us, but they have a worse social safety net; no family, severe mental and physical health, and extreme trauma. Kseniya wishes that the rest of the community could see those who are homeless in the same light as she does, as people who deserve love, care, and support.
Kseniya is grateful for the opportunity she had to graduate from the Honors College. The Honors College helped her to gain critical writing skills that she uses every day to write op-eds, speak in committee meetings, prepare press releases, and create social media content. Kseniya is grateful for the support and mentorship within the Honors College. Specifically, she is grateful for the faculty who saw her and her talents and abilities and believed that she could go places. She believes that the Honors College paved the path to where she is today.
We are so proud of Kseniya and the fantastic work she is doing!