For about a year, residents of a group home for people with autism in Moshav Yanuv have been harassed by neighbors who object to their presence.
According to a police complaint filed on Tuesday by the home’s management, one neighbor sets off a siren and aims a security camera at the home whenever the residents, aged 13 to 26, are outside. Another neighbor periodically sets off an alarm. The loud sounds upset the residents, who are particularly sensitive to noise.
The hostel is run by the Elor organization, whose CEO Alon Elroi said officers were dispatched to handle specific incidents, but while a formal complaint was made a few months ago, it was only after Tuesday’s complaint, which was accompanied by video of the harassment, that an investigation was launched.
Elroi said neighbors also complained repeatedly to the Lev Hasharon Regional Council, saying the home’s residents created too much trash and made too much noise when playing outside, and that visiting parents blocked their parking spaces. A meeting organized by the local government was unsuccessful.
“There were cases of cars being scratched, very unpleasant and unacceptable incidents,” Elroi said.
But when the home sought help from authorities, it often fell between the bureaucratic cracks. Police said they could only intervene at certain hours, because at other times responsibility rested with the local government. But when Elor complained to the regional council, it referred them to the police, saying it was powerless to intervene.
“Had the law enforcement agencies acted more resolutely, this might have been stopped sooner,” Elroi said.
He said the local government’s attitude is important in setting the tone: A local government that welcomes a group home influences the public to follow suit.
Both the home’s management and residents’ parents said they would rather have resolved the dispute peacefully, which is why they waited so long to file a complaint. The home even had residents bring gifts to one particularly problematic neighbor on various holidays, but he refused to open the door.
It was only after this neighbor activated his siren on Tuesday, while one of the mothers was visiting, that Elor finally decided to file another police complaint.
“I was returning my son when I suddenly heard the siren, and then all kinds of screeches, something awful, horribly grating, like nails on a chalkboard, that makes your hair stand up,” said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous. “And I went into the hostel with my son and saw the children outside and realized that that’s what they do when they go out, and I also saw a camera with the lens pointed at the hostel. You understand, as the mother of an autistic child, I’m forbidden to photograph any autistic child at the hostel except my son, but he’s pointing his camera at the children?
“The noise was incessant,” she continued. “I took my iPhone and began recording. And he stood in front of me, smiling, and continued the noise.
“I told the director, ‘What is this? Why didn’t you tell us parents?’ It’s scandalous.”
Itzik Feld, whose son also lives in the home, chimed in, “The angels who live here don’t constitute a nuisance or a danger. They’re autistic adults, reasonably functional, and anyone would want neighbors like them.”
One person who bought a house on the moshav two years ago “didn’t know that this home had such ‘terrible’ residents, and it really bothered him, because he thought this would somehow lower the value of his property,” Feld added.
What makes the situation particularly frustrating is that there’s no way to explain it to the autistic residents or discover how they feel about it, since they don’t display emotion and can’t express themselves verbally, Feld said. “But when I came to the hostel to see my son, he was terribly upset; he understands something bad is happening. You see something like this and you have no way to protect your child.”
The Sharon District police said it was handling the complaint as required by law. “In addition, as a moral imperative and not in the framework of classical policing, we’re working in other ways to solve the problem,” the statement added.
The Lev Hasharon Regional Council said it has “done a lot to integrate people with special needs.” Moshav Yanuv has had two group homes for people with autism for about five years, and the council “utterly condemns” any harm to the residents, it said, noting that it organized several meetings in an effort to resolve the dispute between the hostel and some of its neighbors.
“We regret this case, which is the work of one specific resident,” it added. “This damages the reputation of both Yanuv residents and the council.”