Rent Subsidy for Homeless Is Too Small to Get Them Off Street

When Asafa Kalalao qualified for homeless assistance, he was given 1,170 ($341) a month to find a home. When it wasn't enough to rent, they took it away

Asafa Kalalao.
Ilan Assayag

Asafa Kalalao spent the last cold weekend on the street in Kiryat Malachi, sleeping on a shrub in a public park. “This way my back doesn’t hurt; I can manage with the cold,” he told Haaretz.

Kalalao was able to meet the tough criteria set by the Social Affairs Ministry for recognition as homeless, which entitled him to a rent subsidy of 1,170 shekels ($341) a month from the Housing and Construction Ministry. But because he couldn’t find a flat for rent at that amount, his subsidy was taken away.

The government grants eligible homeless people a little over 1,000 shekels per month for rent. But if they can’t find a flat that rents for up to that amount, their subsidy can be revoked.

“I’ve been living on the street for seven years,’ said Kalalao. “I looked at a lot of apartments but I couldn’t find any because 1,000 shekels is not enough. Everything’s very expensive. After I couldn’t find an apartment, they told me I wasn’t entitled anymore because I didn’t use the subsidy.”

Kalalao began living on the street after a severe family crisis. For a while he slept in an abandoned building in the city center and when it was demolished, he began spending the night opposite city hall. He receives a welfare allowance of about 1,500 shekels a month and has trouble working because of poor health.

Kalalao’s situation, one of many cases where eligible homeless people can’t take advantage of the funding they are entitled to, stems from the Construction and Housing Ministry’s assistance procedures. According to these rules, people who are recognized as homeless by the Social Services Ministry and approved as such by the Construction and Housing Ministry can receive assistance for four years. During the first two years, they receive 1,170 shekels a month, in the third year the sum declines to 1,004 shekels a month and in the fourth year, it’s 883 shekels a month.

A graffiti of a homeless man in Tel Aviv.
Haim Schwarczenberg

The Construction and Housing Ministry transfers the money directly to the landlord, on condition that the homeless person participate in a rehabilitation program – if a landlord can be found to accept such low rent.

Haaretz found that out of 1,800 people recognized as homeless in 2016, only 889 were able to receive the rental assistance that such recognition allows.

Yoela Tibor, director of social services for the Kiryat Malachi municipality, concedes that the sum allocated is not enough to rent an apartment.

“We have been working with Kalalao for years now, and we are doing everything we can to help him. We tried to get him into a hostel, we raised donations for him and we made many attempts to get him a job that didn’t work out. Even when all the efforts are made, there are cases where unfortunately it’s still hard to help. The situation of the homeless people is very complex. Today in Israel you can be poor even if you work two jobs, so you’re certainly poor if you’re homeless and receive 1,100 shekels or nothing at all. The amount is unrealistic for renting an apartment. What’s more, homeless people usually aren’t able to rent a room with a family or flat mates.”

Ron (not his real name) lives in an old car in the Sharon region. About 18 months ago he was recognized as homeless, but like Kalalao, he couldn’t take advantage of the rental subsidy. “It wasn’t even enough for a room, not to mention an apartment. People don’t want to rent to me. They look at me as if I’m disgusting. I stopped trying and I gave up the money. The state has to give real help of a few thousand shekels for at least a few months to rent a one-room apartment, to start life over, to get a job, and then bring it down to a thousand shekels. It’s a lie of the welfare [authorities] that you can live on the street and work.”

The Construction and Housing Ministry responded, “With regard to homeless people, this is a criterion that is set solely by the Social Affairs Ministry. We note that applicants who do not meet the Social Affairs Ministry definition of homeless are entitled to apply for housing assistance from the Construction and Housing Ministry’s exceptions committee.”

The ministry said that in 2016 it received 18.8 million shekels in additional funding to assist applicants, including the homeless, through its exceptions committee: “[I]f there is a gap of a year or more between becoming eligible and utilizing the assistance, the request will be brought before the exceptions committee to examine the possibility of an extension. Experience shows that most people take advantage of the assistance immediately, because that is the purpose of the program.”