After Residents Protest, Tel Aviv to Add Services for Homeless

Two more social workers and additional street patrols among urgent solutions ■ Municipality considers installing keypad-access security doors in apartment buildings and yards on a number of streets in the city's south

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
A homeless person sleeping on a bench in south Tel Aviv, November 2019.
A homeless person sleeping on a bench in south Tel Aviv, November 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Tel Aviv is adding positions to address homelessness in the city, in the wake of heightened protests by residents of some of the most affected neighborhoods.

Last week the city council approved funding to hire two additional full-time social workers and a half-time street patrol position to help people who are homeless. In addition, in the wake of complaints from local residents, the city is considering installing keypad-access security doors in apartment buildings and yards on a number of streets in south Tel Aviv to deter homeless people from congregating in yards and stairwells.

Residents of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods that are most affected by homeless people were planning to protest Sunday outside the police station in Neveh Sha’anan, near the old central bus station, after submitting a list of demands to the city Thursday.

According to a report compiled in 2018 by the city’s comptroller, each social worker in the city’s homeless services unit has a caseload of around 100 people, nearly four times the 25-person caseload specified by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry. Last year the ministry approved three additional social worker positions in the department, for a total of nine. The caseload for each social worker fell to 80 as a result. Now, with the approval of two additional positions, unit officials estimate they are still short three full-time positions in order to address the situation on the city’s streets properly.

Since 2008 the homeless services unit has had a full-time fieldworker, who patrols the streets accompanied by a Russian-speaking welfare employee.

The city estimates that 54 percent of homeless people in the city are from the former Soviet Union. A team from the unit tours the streets every day through the afternoon or early evening, while the rest of the time the street patrol employee is on call until 11 P.M. From that time the welfare department employees who are on call respond. Once a week a social worker joins the patrol to identify people at risk, maintain contact with homeless clients and encourage individuals to seek regular aid. The Social Services Ministry regulations require a social worker to be part of the regular street patrols. With the addition of the half-time position, the city will now employ three full-time fieldworkers.

“Southern Tel Aviv in withdrawal,” a Facebook group of long-time residents that is demanding action from the city and the police to reduce drug-related crime and other illegal activities in their neighborhoods, also requested an increase in the number of social workers assigned to treat homeless people.

The demands they gave city officials Thursday included closing the methadone distribution center on Harakevet Street, or at least limiting distribution of the drug to Tel Aviv residents; to move the addiction treatment center from Hamasger Street and to prohibit clients of the treatment centers from remaining in the neighborhood after their treatment. The residents told the city that while they feel the city has begun taking steps to address the problems, all actions must be coordinated with the residents.

Last week, city officials removed tent they had erected just three days earlier in a park in south 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 is being moved to a less-residential neighborhood.

In a statement, the municipality said the homeless and addiction services unit received three additional positions at the beginning of 2018, including two with joint funding from the city and Social Services Ministry. “The unit recently received two and a half more positions paid for by the city intended for work in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood,” the statement added.

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