Israel Provided Less Aid to Homeless Than Other Nations During Coronavirus Crisis

A document drawn up by the Knesset Research and Information Center reflects gaps in testing and housing aid between Israel and other nations

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A homeless person is seen leaning on a street curb as people with masks and gloves walk past, March 26, 2020.
A homeless person is seen leaning on a street curb as people with masks and gloves walk past, March 26, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel fell behind other countries in aid to its homeless population during the coronavirus crisis, a Knesset report says. 

According to the report submitted last month by the Knesset Research and Information Center, which was ordered by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Israel has no system for testing homeless people for coronavirus, nor is there any centralized body to care for them during the crisis. 

In Tel Aviv, 70 homeless people were tested with the help of Ichilov Hospital, as part of a survey among asylum seekers living in the city’s south. But there are at least 1,000 homeless people living on the streets of Tel Aviv – which some say is a low estimate as it includes only those whose identities are known to the authorities.

The city says all the tests they conducted came back negative and there were no reports of transmission of the virus among the homeless population.

Elsewhere in the world, authorities organized testing for homeless people during the crisis. The U.K. had a system for testing those living on the streets, and those who tested positive were separated from other homeless people, and separate emergency shelters were established. In Washington D.C. and Austin in the United States, authorities monitored homeless people on a daily basis for symptoms of the illness.

A homeless person is seen next to a shop window on Jaffa street, Jerusalem, June 3, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Temporary housing was provided in other parts of the world, as well as emergency isolation centers for homeless people. In England, Scotland and San Francisco the authorities used hotels, hostels, camping tents, and parking lots to shelter homeless people. In France, 95 Airbnb trailers and special apartments were opened for the homeless population, and hotels provided more than 20,000 beds.

But in Israel only one new sheltering system was established during the crisis, at the Kiryat Shlomo Hospital in Raanana, with space for 30 homeless people. Eleven extant nighttime shelters continued operating, but any homeless people who used these facilities were not permitted to leave for fear they could spread the virus, so the facilities quickly reached full capacity. Only a small number of quarantine facilities were available.

The Tel Aviv Municipality tried to find alternative solutions after the shelters filled up. The head of the city's homeless services department, Yoav Ben-Artzi, said that all the establishments approached by the municipality, whether hostels, guest houses, apartment owners and other housing facilities, all reused to shelter any homeless people during the coronavirus lockdown period. As a result, many homeless people were left out on the street.

A person receives food during the coronavirus crisis, March 27, 2020. Credit: Magdalen Guzani

The report reviewed other aid provided by various countries to their homeless populations, such as teams that distribute food and hygiene products; food vouchers; setting up warming tents, mobile bathrooms and showers; and sinks for handwashing in areas with high concentrations of homeless people.

Israel also purchased food and supplies for those living on the street and within the welfare system; the Welfare Ministry approved the expenditure of 160,000 shekels a month for the project. In addition, Tel Aviv sent more representatives into the streets to explain the situation and distribute food and moving some homeless people to sheltered sleeping quarters.

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