Israel's Battered Women’s Shelters Now Strapped for Cash

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An advocate working at a domestic abuse hotline center (illustrative).
An advocate working at a domestic abuse hotline center (illustrative).Credit: Eric Gay, AP

Israel’s 14 shelters for battered women are suffering from significant money shortages, with the three shelters run by the largest and most veteran nonprofit, No to Violence, finding themselves in severe financial distress.

The shelters, which deal with 1,500 women and children who are victims of domestic violence every year, have been operated for decades by nonprofit associations under the supervision and with funding of the Social Affairs Ministry. But shelter directors say the government budget for the shelters – 15,000 shekels ($4,163) for each woman and her children – covers only 65 percent of the shelters’ expenses and leaves every shelter with an annual deficit of at least half a million shekels (nearly $140,000).

This means the shelters’ operators must spend considerable time and effort on fundraising, rather than on their work with the women and children. At the end of 2015 the shelters approached the Social Affairs Ministry with an urgent request for a budget increase, and the ministry set up a team to examine the needs of the shelters that has yet to finish its work.

Indeed, the ministry does not take into account some of the shelters’ basic needs. For example, every woman, no matter how many children she has or even if she has no children, is budgeted at the same rate. In recent years the number of children in these shelters has grown considerably so that now they house more children than women; in 2015 the shelters housed 985 children and 738 women. Nor does the ministry provide any funding to operate preschools in the shelters; the shelters cover that expense themselves.

Another problem is that the Social Affairs Ministry budget doesn’t take into account the cost of rent for the shelters, other than for a handful of shelters for special populations, which do get some help. Nor does the ministry fund the construction of new shelters, which is what led the No to Violence association to its present state.

In 2011, the ministry for the first time issued standards for the construction of shelters, insisting that every woman be given her own room. The three shelters No to Violence was running did not meet the new standards, and they were allowed to continue operating in their old facilities on condition that they were replaced as soon as possible. Over the past few years the nonprofit had to spend 20 million shekels on the construction of new shelters, which was covered by donors.

“The raising of standards for the shelters is positive and welcome,” said Yael Gold, No to Violence’s executive director. “These women deserve the best conditions after they fled their homes and suffered violence. The problem is they aren’t budgeted. We work around the clock soliciting donations instead of investing our time in the women themselves.”

'Would firefighters be asked to fund fire stations?'

Ruth Resnick, No to Violence’s founder, wrote a letter to the social affairs minister and MKs demanding a change in approach. “Would it be conceivable for firefighters, policemen or prison guards to be asked to fund the station that they operate for the public’s welfare?” she wrote. “Would it be conceivable that teachers, principals and school guidance counselors be forced to build the schools in which they teach and work? Why are voluntary groups helping vulnerable women and their children being asked to do this?” No to Violence, which was founded in 1977, was recently forced to close the hotline they had operated since 1988.

At the end of 2015, during discussions by the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, the forum of organizations that operate women’s shelters asked then-Social Affairs Ministry director-general Eliezer Jablon to reevaluate the shelters’ budgeting. In 2016 Jablon set up a professional team to do this, but the team has not completed its work. Jablon died of cardiac arrest in December.

“The funding gap puts the associations operating the shelters in economic and operational difficulties, which come on top of the professional and therapeutic challenges they face in protecting, treating and rehabilitating the women and child victims of domestic violence,” said Dina Hevlin, chairperson of the forum. “We expect the ministry to finish the process soon and that the funding of shelters will be adjusted to the needs of the women and children and their actual cost.”

The Social Affairs Ministry responded by saying, “The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry protects and treats some 730 women and 1,100 children annually in 14 battered women’s shelters throughout the country, and conducts continuous staff work to examine the needs of the women and children in the shelters.”

The ministry said that services to domestic violence victims continue after the women leave the shelter and include transition grants, vocational training, and follow-up therapy at 100 treatment centers all over the country.

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