Homeless Shelters to Take in the 300 Young People Living in Squats

For the first time, Israel will make efforts to rehabilitate hundreds of youths living in the streets, but not technically considered homeless.

Homeless on a Tel Aviv street, November 2015.
Tomer Appelbaum

Some 300 teens are living in abandoned buildings, without water or electricity, because they have nowhere else to go, according to Social Affairs Ministry figures released Tuesday.

Yet these teens are not considered homeless because of a clause in the ministry’s definition of the homeless as people who “are not struggling to change their situation and cannot lead normative lives.” This is not true for most of the young people living on the street.

Now, for the first time, efforts will be made to rehabilitate these young people. Funding of 10 million shekels (about $2.56 million) will be invested, and in 2016 shelters will be opened throughout the country for street dwellers ages 18 to 28.

There is currently no such framework for this age group; shelters generally cater to older homeless people.

The new program was developed by a sub-committee of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee to help the homeless, headed by MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), along with the Social Affairs Ministry. One of the shelters will be earmarked for ultra-Orthodox girls and one for LGBT teens.

“Young street dwellers are the ones we can rehabilitate and bring back into society. But the problem stems from the fact that these children are not considered street dwellers,” Ben Ari told Haaretz.

“If a teen does not suffer from physical or psychological neglect according to their definition – for example if he showers at a shelter when it is open – then he is not physically neglected and he is not considered a street dweller according to the Social Affairs Ministry.”

Ben Ari added, “We are working to change the definition and open shelters to these people so they don’t fall between the cracks.”

The sub-committee is to meet today to discuss treatment of homeless young people.

According to the director of the Teen and Youth Service in the Social Affairs Ministry, Tzipi Nahshon-Glick, these people will be able to sleep at the shelter for three months, during which they will receive food and a bed as well as assistance from a social worker. “This way we will try to help them into a framework and normal life,” Nahshon-Glick said.

New figures from the Social Affairs Ministry reveal that only 6 percent of all homeless people treated this year were between the ages of 18 and 25. Sixty percent were between the ages of 36 and 55, while 20 percent were 56 to 65 years old.

The Ben Ari sub-committee and the Social Affairs Ministry are also working on redefining homelessness to include a category of “young street dweller.” According to this definition, homeless people ages 18 to 35 living in abandoned buildings, parks, public areas and construction sites will be given rent assistance by the state.

In contrast to the current definition, a young street dweller will be defined as a person “who wants to change his situation and live a normal life in the future.”

As reported in Haaretz in early December, Social Affairs Ministry data and estimates indicate there are some 2,300 people living on the streets in Israel, but only 1,300 of them are recognized as homeless and receive help from social services.