Tel Aviv Offers One-time Rent Grants to Homeless at Remaining Protest Tents

Tent-dwellers must show the city a rental contract and sign a commitment to leave the encampment and not return, Haaretz has learned. According to reports from occupants, the grants being offered are up to NIS 10,000.

In an effort to expedite the closure of the tent camps in the Hatikva neighborhood and in Jaffa, the Tel Aviv municipality has offered the homeless residents of those two sites a one-time grant to cover six months' rent.

The tent-dwellers must show the city a rental contract and sign a commitment to leave the encampment and not return, Haaretz has learned.

Hatikva tent-dweller - Daniel Bar-On - October 2011
Daniel Bar-On

According to reports from occupants of these enclaves, the grants being offered are up to NIS 10,000. To date, there have apparently been few takers.

City officials are also, however, preparing to forcibly evacuate the tent camps within a few weeks, though they hope to find temporary housing solutions for as many residents as possible before taking that step.

The officials fear there may be violence in response to forced evacuations, since the tents are mainly occupied by people with nowhere else to go.

Following a legal battle, the municipality a month ago evacuated the tent camps on Rothschild and Nordau boulevards and in Levinsky Park, but allowed those in Hatikva and Jaffa to remain. The reasons given were that those camps were in public parks and not disrupting activities on the street, and that the inhabitants of the two camps had genuine housing problems and were not simply protesting.

There are about 180 people in the Hatikva camp and 30 in the one in Jaffa. Many say they are eligible for public housing, but have been waiting for it for years. Residents include both single- and two-parent families, elderly and disabled persons, recently released prisoners, addicts and alcoholics.

They insist that no matter what the city does, they aren't leaving until they receive permanent housing solutions. Several have started to spread tarpaulins out to protect against the rain.

"We're preparing for a lengthy stay," said Itzik Amsalem, one of the heads of the Hatikva camp, who is living in a tent with four of his children. "This tent isn't a protest, it's a housing solution. We didn't go home when the summer ended. No one here has a home, or any way to pay high rent."

Orly Cohen lives in a nearby tent with her six children. She was recently evicted from her apartment due to debts.

"I'm desperate - I don't know how we'll survive the winter here," she said.

Wafa Abu Shamis, who lives in the Jaffa camp with her husband and three children, said they were offered a grant from the city, but refused it.

"They said they'd give us NIS 9,500 to cover rent for half a year. That's rent for two-and-a-half months, not six," she explained. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm entitled to public housing and I'm not getting it.

Amsalem has meanwhile been helping fellow residents prepare for winter, soliciting donations of waterproof tents, tarps and heaters. The camp has a chemical toilet, shower, sink and a mobile home from which supplies and food are distributed.

Amsalem is concerned that some residents may accept the municipal grant, because they are worried about the winter weather. Nevertheless, he doesn't believe there will be violent resistance to an evacuation.

"We'll let them carry us out and drag us. Activists from all over the country will be here with cameras," he said.

"All we expect is a respectable housing solution," Amsalem added. "We saw how humane the state was to the Turks; it sent them sweaters and blankets. We're here four months - men, women and children - and no one worried about us or kept us warm."