Haifa Mayor Might Let Shelter for Homeless Teens Move Out of City Center After All

Yona Yahav had vowed ‘world war’ to keep group home from moving to upscale Carmel neighborhood.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.
Rami Shllush

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav is slated to visit Monday a group home for homeless teens in the city and reexamine his refusal to let it move from the city center to an upscale residential neighborhood, Haaretz has learned.

Last week Haaretz reported that Yahav vehemently opposed allowing The House on Haim Street to move from Lower Hadar to Carmel Center, saying he would prefer that it leave Haifa.

Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel is coordinating the visit and will accompany Yahav. It was arranged after Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz said on Sunday, in response to Yahav’s remarks, that he would examine legal options for forcing the mayor to permit the move. The charity that runs The House on Haim Street has already found a new home for it in Carmel Center.

In a recording obtained by Haaretz last week, Yahav was heard saying, “I have the autistic, I have the homeless, what’s wrong with you? ... I don’t want them in my city.”

In the recording, the mayor suggests that residents in Carmel Center would organize to keep the group home out of their neighborhood. He tried to block the rental, even though the move does not require his approval.

Gamliel said Monday that Yahav had promised to reexamine his position.

“The meeting tomorrow is for the mayor to listen to the directors and to hear the stories of the teenagers and their difficulties in [Lower Carmel], so that together we can try to find an alternative acceptable to everyone,” she said.

A rally in support of the group home is scheduled for this afternoon outside City Hall, during a city council meeting. Around 500 people have said they plan to come.

“The residents of Haifa believe The House on Haim Street is not a nuisance and that the teenagers are not a burden on the people of Central Carmel,” said Gila Zamir, one of the organizers. “We call on Yona Yahav to change his position.”

A nongovernmental organization, Otot, operates The House on Haim Street under the auspices of the Social Affairs Ministry. The only facility of its kind in northern Israel, it serves as a temporary shelter for about 300 homeless children a year aged 12 to 18.

The search for a new location began after a number of girls at the group home were harassed, mugged and sexually assaulted in Lower Hadar. A year ago, one group home resident was injured and the building’s plumbing was damaged when rocks were thrown at it.