Tel Aviv Homeless Shelter Illegally Bars Entry to HIV Carriers

Lasova, the nonprofit group that manages the city's homeless shelters, said the shelter bases its policy on the belief that it's unfair to expose addicts to HIV infection.

A Tel Aviv homeless shelter for drug and alcohol addicts bars entrance to HIV/AIDS patients in violation of the law but says the move is necessary due to concerns about needle sharing.

"This shelter excludes HIV carriers due to fears about shared needles," the Tel Aviv municipality said. "At the other three shelters there is no such restriction."

Lasova, the nonprofit group that manages the city's homeless shelters, said the shelter bases its policy on the belief that it's unfair to expose addicts to HIV infection.

"A dormitory for the homeless isn't a hotel," Lasova said, adding that shelters have to "apply different rules than what is accepted in places that follow accepted social norms."

The municipality is required to help the homeless under regulations set by the Social Affairs Ministry. The municipality has privatized its services for taking care of the homeless, handing them over to Lasova. Lasova operates four homeless shelters in Tel Aviv.

Several months ago the Israel AIDS Task Force and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel told City Hall they had both received a number of complaints against Lasova regarding HIV carriers. After waiting two months for a response from City Hall, the organizations received a letter from Lasova.

"The facts are accurate," the letter stated. "We do not let those suffering from or carrying AIDS to stay at the homeless shelters."

The letter was signed by Lasova Chief Executive Gilad Harish, who said the group operates shelters with a "don't ask, don't tell policy" regarding HIV. "If we know that a homeless person is either a carrier or sufferer, we will refuse to accept him," Harish wrote in the letter.

According to Harish, "In the past there were homeless people at the dormitory who were known to be either AIDS sufferers or carriers, and the matter stirred great fears among dormitory residents," Harish wrote. "Some among them left the dormitory and preferred to live in the streets."

According to Harish, "The nature of things ... is that homeless people tend to be addicts and drug users who don't maintain strict hygienic or sanitary conditions in the dormitory." He said they share syringes and razor blades. "And if that weren't enough, it can't be ruled out that residents are engaging in sexual activity."

The Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law states that anyone who provides a public service may not discriminate against people with disabilities. He may not set separate conditions that prevent people with disabilities from receiving a public service or entering a public space. The law defines HIV carriers as people with disabilities.

"Under no circumstances can services be denied to a homeless HIV carrier on the grounds that the nature of the service or place requires it," said Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, director of the Association for Civil Rights' Right to Housing Program. In a letter to City Hall, he added that even if HIV carriers weren't considered people who suffer disabilities, it would still be illegal to deny them access to homeless shelters based on the constitutional right to equality.

"Excluding people with disabilities from a Lasova shelter violates the law and is both a criminal and civil offense," Gan-Mor told Haaretz.

Social worker Miri Barbero-Elkayam, manager of psychological and social services for the Israel AIDS Task Force, criticized the exclusion of homeless HIV carriers.

"The policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' is unacceptable because it hurts HIV carriers who don't hide the fact that they are carriers. It prevents them from benefiting from a lifesaving public service," she said.

Barbero-Elkayam suggested that service providers prevent the spread of HIV at homeless shelters by "providing [clean] syringes and condoms, and by providing information."

According to Barbero-Elkayam, "A policy of burying one's head in the sand and excluding HIV carriers from essential public services is not just inhumane but also ineffective. The responsibility for coming up with a solution falls on Tel Aviv City Hall."