Haifa Mayor Objects to Hostel for Homeless Children: 'Don't Want Them in My City'

In a recording obtained by Haaretz, Yona Yahav says he refuses to negotiate over a hostel in the city center. 'Have you gone mad?'

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.
Rami Shllush

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz condemned on Thursday remarks made by Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav according to which he doesn’t want a hostel for homeless children in the city.

"It's very hard for me to hear disgusting and racist comments against weaker segments of society," said Katz. "The ministry under my leadership is committed to enable the integration of at-risk youth in every city and town in Israel, all according to the necessary measures."

Earlier on Thursday, Haaretz published that Yahav objects to having a hostel for homeless children in Haifa and has prevented the NGO operating the hostel from leasing a private building for this purpose.

In a recording obtained by Haaretz the mayor says “I have the autistic [children], I [should] have the homeless? What’s the matter with you?... I don’t want them in my city, let them go to Kiryat Ata.”

He is also recorded refusing to negotiate over a hostel in Haifa’s Carmel center. “Have you gone mad? [Do you want me] to have a residents’ rebellion there?” Referring to a similar hostel in Tel Aviv, Yahav says: “That’s the Tel Aviv mayor’s problem.”

Katz said that "the integration of teens is a first-rate social mission. The right to integrate with the community is a basic right for anyone, and especially for young men and women who need social services, and no one will prevent it." 

Angry residents are planning a conference in protest of Yahav's comments and Oranim – School of Education of the Kibbutz Movement offered to house the hostel on its campus in response to the incident.

The hostel “the House on Haim Street” located in the lower Hadar neighborhood was initially operated by the Social Affairs Ministry, which later privatized the service and it is now run by the private NGO Otot. After five years, the NGO wants to move it to the prestigious Carmel center area.

This is the only hostel for homeless children aged 12-18 in the northern region and is home to some 300 children every year. Similar hostels are located in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva.

Otot looked for another place after a number of girls staying at the hostel were sexually assaulted, cursed at and mugged in the neighborhood. A few years ago some residents threw stones at the hostel, ruined its plumbing and injured one of the girls.

“We have to move from here, it’s unsafe, no other emergency center is located in such an area,” said Sharon Oscar, the hostel’s manager. “We’ve despaired of the municipality’s lack of support.”

Otot wanted to move the hostel to a building in the central Carmel that belongs to the Rotenberg Foundation, a private foundation established in 1942 that deals with education and social affairs. The foundation agreed to rent the premises to the NGO as a hostel, and Otot has already raised some 1 million shekels in contributions for renovating the building.

Some four months ago, the mayor found out about the agreement between the foundation and Otot and informed the foundation chairman, David Rotenberg, that he objects to the plan. Following this, the foundation suspended the decision to rent the building to the NGO pending the mayor’s consent.

Legally, however, a private foundation does not require the mayor’s approval to lease a private building. The hostel’s lease in Hadar is about to expire and no alternative premises has been found.

MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), head of the subcommittee for homeless youngsters, contacted Yahav several times in a bid to persuade him of the importance of moving the teenagers to a hostel that suits their needs.

“Central Carmel is not an option,” Yahav told her. “That’s it. Period. I don’t want [it] We need that place for kindergartens, for a school, for the needs of the neighborhood itself. Let them go to Kiryat Ata Why do I have to give you a place in Haifa? Heaven forbid if they come here If you want to continue with this there will be a world war,” Yahav said.

Ben Ari said, “I want to find a solution for those children,” and Yahav retorted, “not in our city!”

Yahav said that in Tel Aviv the hostels for homeless teenagers “aren’t concentrated on Dizengoff or Ibn Gvirol streets Have you gone mad?”

The mayor argued that 80 percent of the homeless children “aren’t from Haifa,” although all the hostels in other cities are home to children from various other places.

“Despite all our attempts we failed to convince him of the issue’s importance. The Tel Aviv and Jerusalem mayors took on themselves unhesitatingly to help these children,” Ben Ari said.

Otot CEO Tamar Alon said, “We expect the mayor to enlist to help these needy children and not to exclude them.”

Rotenberg said, “Such activity should be coordinated with the city and social services.”

Haaretz has learned that Eliezer Yablon, the director general of the Social Affairs Ministry, spoke with Yahav on Thursday to reach a solution on the matter, but the latter dug in his heels. The ministry said that the treatment and housing of the teens won't be changed for the worse.

By press time, the municipality had yet to respond.