Tel Aviv Removes Social Services Tent for Drug Users After Residents Complain

The tent, was among the city’s responses to recent by residents about homelessness in south Tel Aviv, and will be moved to a less-residential neighborhood

A homeless person sleeps near the social services tent in Kiryat Shalom, Tel Aviv, December 8, 2019.
Meged Gozani

City officials took down Wednesday a tent they had erected just three days earlier in a park in southern Tel Aviv to provide social services to drug users after residents complained.

The tent, in a wooded area in Kiryat Shalom, was among the city’s responses to recent complaints by residents about the issue of homelessness in south Tel Aviv. It will be moved to a less-residential neighborhood.

A team from the city’s department of homeless services staffed the tent to 5 P.M. daily, handing out water and hot beverages and arranging inpatient rehabilitation for drug user. The city says 18 people were placed in treatment centers during the three or four days the tent was in Kiryat Shalom.

On December 1, Haaretz reported a serious personnel shortage in the homeless services department. The piece, together with an article on the Ynet website, spurred the city to greater action. Department employees told Haaretz Wednesday that additional positions were allocated to the unit.

Residents of south Tel Aviv, meanwhile, protested both what they say is the city’s neglect of the area and its response to it.

Meir Eliel-Rabinovitch, who started a Facebook group called “Southern Tel Aviv in withdrawal,” told Haaretz that the group was opposed to any solution within the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods of Florentin, Neveh Sha’anan, Shapira and Kiryat Shalom. “We have enough problems here,” he said, adding that the group plans to submit concrete proposals to the city and was planning a demonstration in two weeks’ time.

Eliel-Rabinovitch was one of some 40 residents who met Sunday to organize their protest. They stressed that their issue was not with the drug users and homeless people, but that they objected to the drug dealers and the neglect by city hall.

A few months ago, Kiryat Shalom residents protested the establishment by a nonprofit organization of group homes for recovering drug users in the neighborhood. One woman, Debby Yogev Yisaschar, told Sunday’s meeting: “We found syringes in our yards and were surprised to learn that the nonprofit had rented seven apartments, with the addicts smoking outdoors. This is a residential neighborhood and the city is sending addicts here. I don’t know what the solutions are, but they can’t take place in our neighborhood.”

Area residents plan to start neighborhood patrols on Thursday. “People are simply scared to walk on Chlenov and nearby streets,” says Renan Landsmann, who is organizing the patrols. “Unlike Florentin, where there are bars and cafés, it’s unpleasant to walk on Chlenov,” he adds, referring to a gentrifying neighborhood and a nearby area that is closer to the city’s central bus station.

Camilla Luzinski joined around a dozen people who protested outside the tent Tuesday evening. Two police cruisers parked nearby. “I went to show my son, who is in a school teaching democratic values, what happens when residents unite and protest against something they believe is unjust,” she said. “When I heard about the tent, I was surprised. We don’t have many addicts and homeless people in the neighborhood. I didn’t know what the tent’s purpose was. My daughter goes to a nature and science school in the area. She could go by bike but I pay 500 shekels ($144) for busing since I won’t let her go alone. I accompany her everywhere since nearby streets are full of drug dealers. Putting the tent near us is unfair. On the other hand, I’m trying to think humanely, and no one is immune from addiction, but on the other hand, I’m afraid,” Luzinski said

Residents reported an uptick in patrols by police and municipal inspectors in the week since the Facebook group was formed. The municipality confirmed to Haaretz that it had increased its patrols in the neighborhoods. City workers removed some benches in Neveh Sha’anan in an effort to calm the anti-homeless protest.

In a response, the municipality said the tent was put up in response to a need for greater aid to drug users and homeless people. “It is a tent that’s protected from the elements, operating only during daylight hours, offering advice and referrals to rehab centers as well as providing hot food and assistants to accompany those who want help in getting to social services.”

The efforts have intensified, the city said, and the rise in admissions to treatment centers shows their success. “Since the location of the tent upset residents, the tent was dismantled and will be moved to Hamasger Street, far from residential buildings. The tent will continue to serve needy populations throughout the winter, but will not include sleeping arrangements, something city hall will verify.” Regarding the bench removals, the city said: “We found there was a surplus of benches that were not being used in that area, or that were misused in a way that was disruptive, so we decided to remove them.”