Israel Considers Proposal to Aid Homelessness in South Tel Aviv

In January, three homeless drug addicts died on the streets in and around south Tel Aviv’s Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood

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A homeless person on a Tel Aviv bench.
A homeless person on a Tel Aviv bench. An estimated 40 percent of the country's homeless live in south Tel Aviv.Credit: Meged Gozani

At the initiative of the Public Security Ministry, a panel of cabinet members dealing with combatting violence will consider a proposal Sunday to convene a team to address the needs of the homeless population of south Tel Aviv.

The proposal, which focuses on the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood of south Tel Aviv, is also designed to provide assistance to women working in prostitution and drug addicts in the area. The team is to be led by representatives of the health and the social affairs ministry. Because the cabinet ministers considering the plan are members of a caretaker government, if they approve the plan, it will not come with funding or staffing. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai expressed skepticism regarding the prospects of success for the proposed interministerial team until a national government with full powers is established following the March 2 election.

According to Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry data, 40 percent of the homeless in Israel live in south Tel Aviv, primarily in Neveh Sha’anan. Tel Aviv’s municipal department for the homeless is dealing with 1,060 cases, but the actual number of homeless in the city is believed to be much higher because the statistics include only those who have requested help from the city.

Among the homeless whose cases the city is handling, 87 percent are male and 33 percent are mentally ill. Thirty percent suffer from a combination of problems (such as addiction and mental illness), and 45 percent are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The municipal unit dealing with addiction is currently treating 850 addicts, 150 of whom are homeless.

Interministerial cooperation is essential to address the homeless problem, a senior Social Affairs Ministry official said. “The Social Affairs Ministry can’t handle the homeless issue alone. The state has to develop a national plan,” he said, adding that addressing the problem needs to be taken “several steps forward.”

According to the Health Ministry, this month has seen increased coordination increased between the Tel Aviv municipality and the Health Ministry’s department on addiction, and 87 homeless people were admitted to hospitals. But the waiting list for space in such facilities is growing, particularly for people with multiple conditions and for women. And according to the Social Affairs Ministry, there are only 12 hospital beds available for transgender women and women working in prostitution, for example.

The Health Ministry has asked mayors of cities in central Israel to find alternative space for one of the three methadone clinics in Tel Aviv in an effort to reduce crime and homelessness in Tel Aviv itself. According to the ministry, 43 percent of the people served by methadone clinics in Tel Aviv are not Tel Aviv residents.

Last week, a political dispute within the Tel Aviv municipality complicated the city’s response to the homelessness problem after experts stayed away from a meeting of the municipal human rights committee. Haaretz has learned that the experts failed to attend following requests from close associates of Mayor Huldai against the backdrop of an appeal filed by Tel Aviv Councilwoman Moriah Shlomot of the city’s decision to demolish Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv. The city plans to build a school for the children of foreign migrants on the site.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which called for the meeting, told the city’s legal adviser that “municipal employees are obligated to the public. They are not the mayor’s servants.” The municipality said their failure to appear was a mistake, but added that municipal employees have no obligation to attend the committee meeting.

Three homeless people died in January

According to the Social Affairs Ministry, in 2019, 16 homeless people died on the streets of Tel Aviv, compared to 7 in 2018. In 2017, there were 14 cases, following 8 cases in 2016.

Last month, there were three cases of drug addicts who died on the streets in and around Neveh Sha’anan. One was known to the municipal department for the homeless but the other two were known only to the police. According to medical sources, all three died of illnesses associated with their addiction. One was a native of Ukraine, another was a foreign worker from Moldova and the third was a Sudanese citizen.

The municipality said in response: “When the city receives information about a homeless person found dead on the street, the police are called to obtain the personal details and determine the circumstances of death. If the police have no information about the circumstances, but personal details are available, we ask the head of the forensics institute or his representative for a cause of death. We are not aware a procedure requiring the police to report to the municipality on the death of a homeless person. Nevertheless, the police do report such cases to us on an ongoing basis.”

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