Dying of Cold

Haaretz Editorial
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Two homeless men last month.
Two homeless men last month.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Haaretz Editorial

Last week in south Tel Aviv’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, in the city that The Economist calls the most expensive city in the world by, a 57-year-old homeless man died on a street bench. His clothes were soaked from the heavy rains that fell at the onset of winter storm Carmel storm, and at the hospital he was declared dead from hypothermia.

The deceased was a father of three who had immigrated from the former Soviet Union and had not been in touch with his family for 20 years. Only after his body was found did the Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry instruct the mayors of larger cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to open their emergency shelters to homeless people. Only then did Tel Aviv offer them emergency shelter in a miserable bomb shelter, with mattresses laid out directly on the floor.

On Wednesday, two more homeless men died within hours of each other in Bat Yam, which has no overnight shelters for homeless people. One 60-year-old man was found dead around noon. He had sought shelter from the storm in a fire hose reel cabinet in the parking garage of a commercial center. In the evening, the body of a 50-year-old man was found in the bomb shelter of an apartment building, where he evidently hoped to ride out the storm. He was wearing only thin hospital pajamas.

The deaths of these homeless men received scant media attention. Even worse, they failed to attract the attention of the mayors of the cities in which they occurred. No Knesset member, no cabinet minister, said a word about them. That’s not surprising. Homeless people are people without a voice, who suffer from cruel stigmas. They live and die on the street; invisible, often nameless, and without so much as a city welfare case file. This situation is a result of years of neglect, and it necessitates a complete overhaul.

Israel’s “government of change” must immediately appoint an interministerial committee that includes the mayors of large cities with homeless residents, as well as the ministers of social services, construction and housing, health and public security, and representatives of the Israel Prison Service. This panel must begin advancing a comprehensive policy to address the problem: expanding the provision of social services; improving and expanding temporary housing in cities across Israel, including overnight shelters, drop-in centers and transitional housing; increasing rental subsidies in line with market prices and introducing “housing first” programs to provide long-term housing and assistance, not just temporary overnight shelter.

Homeless people do not choose to live on the street, penniless, sleeping on benches, floors or in some dilapidated building. They certainly do not choose to die of cold. As a society, we cannot allow the authorities to paper over the absence of solutions and the paltry assistance, while ignoring such deaths. Homeless people are victims of society who have been condemned to an ignominious life of destitution on the street. They are human beings who need help.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.