At Least 70 Poor Elderly People Living on Israel's Streets Awaiting State Housing

Altogether, some 750 poor elderly people are on the waiting list to move into senior citizens' homes.

A poor elderly man in Jerusalem in need of state housing, August 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

At least 70 poor elderly people are living on the street while waiting for a place to come open in a Construction and Housing Ministry senior citizens’ home, something that will only happen when one of the current residents dies. Altogether, some 750 poor elderly people are on the waiting list to move into the home, according to data from the Housing and Social Affairs ministries.

The most any single elderly person can get in rental assistance while he or she waits is about 1,000 shekels ($265) a month, which in the center of the country or Jerusalem isn’t even enough to rent a room. Most elderly people, in any case, are offered less.

The Construction and Housing Ministry manages 120 senior citizens’ homes with a total of 12,000 apartments. These homes are meant for elderly singles or couples who live on the National Insurance Institute’s old-age allowance and income supplements, do not own an apartment and are not eligible for public housing.

The residents cannot be nursing care patients; they must be able to take care of themselves and are vetted by a committee. Even after they are approved for such housing, they can wait as long as a year-and-a-half for a space to free up in a suitable residence.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the apartments in these residences are occupied by elderly immigrants whose placements are made from a separate list kept by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. Available apartments are allocated equally between the two ministries’ lists.

The number of immigrants waiting for a space in these residences is far higher – some 20,000 people – and immigrants can wait as long as a decade for a space. However, they are entitled to rental assistance of between 1,500-1,700 shekels, around double what most Housing Ministry clients can get.

Amos (not his real name), is 69 and lives in Jerusalem; for the past three weeks he’s been on the street. He has been waiting for a place in a Beit Shemesh residence for over a year, and is now first on the waiting list, but how much longer he’ll need to wait “is in God’s hands,” he said.

“I never imagined that when I got old I’d find myself on the street, without a place to go,” he told Haaretz. “All my life I worked, I bought my own apartment, I didn’t understand that if something happened to me I’d be left without any help from the state.”

He worked for 35 years as an insurance agent, but about 10 years ago he ran up some debts and was forced to sell his Jerusalem apartment and declare bankruptcy. In recent years he worked at odd jobs as long as his health allowed him and he gets an old-age allowance from the NII. Several months ago he began falling behind on his rent and his landlord evicted him. He’d been spending time at friends’ homes until the last few weeks.

With the help of Yedid, the Association for Community Empowerment, Amos was approved for rental assistance of 845 shekels a month, but he cannot receive it unless he finds an apartment for rent, which he will never find at that price in the capital. The Jerusalem municipality’s social services department also has a 2,500 shekel grant waiting for him, but only if he shows a rental contract.

In a letter to attorney Ron Derech, the director of Yedid’s Jerusalem branch, Amos wrote, “They’re telling me to manage on the street until I find a place to stay,” he said. “It’s a catastrophic situation, cruelty by the authorities.”

He noted that at his age, with health problems that give him a disability quotient of 56 percent, he has no way of finding work, and no landlord will sign a rental contract without guarantors, post-dated checks and so on. The Social Affairs Ministry says there are some 2,300 homeless people living on the streets in Israel, 3 percent of them over the age of 65. According to Idit Lev of Rabbis for Human Rights, most of those waiting for places in senior residences aren’t really “street people,” but “couch people” and the number waiting for a placement is far higher. “It’s unusual that these people end up in the street; there are dozens of elderly people who find someone to put them up on their sofa,” she said.

Not all the country’s senior residences have waiting lists, however. While in cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the residences are full, there are homes in other cities with few, if any, people in line. In July 2015, in fact, the Housing Ministry lowered the age of eligibility to 60 in places like Netivot, Or Akiva, Kiryat Ata and Ma’alot. In Amos’ case, the ministry offered him a place in Kiryat Gat, but he refused it. “I grew up and lived all my life in Jerusalem; Beit Shemesh is as far as I’m willing to go,” he told Haaretz.

The Housing Ministry realizes that the lack of housing solutions for the elderly is acute, and last December an agreement was signed with the Jewish Agency to build 2,650 apartments for the elderly in buildings belonging to the agency, in a joint 1.5 billion-shekel venture that will only be completed in 2020.