Israel's Social Protest Leaders Demand Government Help Homeless Families in Tents

Housing Minister Ariel Atias urged to find housing solutions for dozens of families who have no home other than the protest tents.

Leaders of the social protest yesterday urged Housing Minister Ariel Atias to find housing solutions for dozens of families who have no home other than the protest tents in which they have been living this summer.

Over the last month, protest activists compiled a list of some 30 families, most headed by single mothers, who have no home but the tents. The list was given to Atias about two weeks ago when he met with one of the protest leaders, Avi Aboud, a social work student at the Haredi College of Jerusalem.

J14 - Michal Fattal - September 14 2011
Michal Fattal

But yesterday, the ministry informed the families that those who meet the criteria for public housing will have to go through the entire lengthy application process, while those who don't qualify will receive no help at all.

Odelia Vaknin, 33, of Ashdod is one of those on the list. "I have two children, and the eligibility criteria insist on three," she said. "At the moment they are telling me, 'have another child, and then we'll talk to you' - it's unrealistic. Every year or two we move house in an attempt to find some sort of solution, but the bureaucracy is just getting worse and worse."

Vaknin's latest lease will run out in July, at which point she believes she will not be able to afford another rental. "In less than a year, I'll be out in the street with two children. There are temporary solutions that can be provided immediately; I'm even willing to live in a caravilla (a large trailer )."

Aboud said the ministry's response is insufficient. "It's nice to know that they examined each person's needs and whether he's eligible for housing or not, but we're back to square one for all those who don't meet the criteria, who still need a solution, if only a temporary one," he said. "There are people in tents on the street for lack of any alternative, and they are being supported by 25-year-old social activists. The State of Israel isn't taking responsibility for this social emergency. Put the protest aside for a moment and talk about the people who are suffering."

Sima Moyal, for instance, has been living in a tent in Rehovot for two months with her 11-year-old son. "I've been homeless for four years already, a nomad," she said, adding that she can't afford to rent an apartment on her income, but is ineligible for public housing. "A temporary solution is like giving a band-aid for cancer; it won't help. I need a permanent solution."

The ministry promised yesterday that all those eligible for assistance will receive it. But in reality, even those who were officially recognized as eligible long ago are not even close to actually getting an apartment. Among them is Orit Ohana, another resident of the Rehovot tent city, who has been waiting for an apartment for over five years.

"I've been living in a tent for two months already," she said. "I left my apartment because I had no way to pay [the rent] ... I have nowhere to go, and I want a home."

The ministry said it has proposed to the Trajtenberg Committee on socioeconomic reform that the thousands of families still waiting for an apartment due to the shortage in public housing should in the meantime be given rent subsidies equal to 90 percent of market rents. Currently rent subsidies are far lower than market rents.