ERAN, the National Crisis Intervention Hotline that provides emotional first aid by telephone and Internet, is in danger of being shut down, according to evidence heard Tuesday in the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee. Some NIS 2 million is owed by government ministries to the voluntary organization.
The session on ERAN, which can be reached 24 hours a day by dialing 1201, was initiated by Labor MK Hilik Bar and Meretz MK Michal Rozin. Hundreds of thousands of troubled people contact ERAN each year, but due to the shortage of funds, over NIS 100,000 were not answered as its services have been cut, the MKs were told.
Bar said that the confidential service supplied mostly by trained volunteers saves the social welfare authorities huge burdens, as many callers are helped enough so as not to need additional counseling. Many of those who call for help threaten to commit suicide, and having someone listen to their problems often dissuades them.
The Health and Labor and Social Welfare Ministries provide less than four percent of ERAN’s budget. However, the Health Ministry’s own program for preventing suicide is going to get NIS 55 million over the next three years, Bar said. “Why isn’t there a way to allocation two million pitiful shekels for Eran?”
Rozin added that NIS 2 million is not enough, because ERAN needs to plan ahead and expand in the coming years.
Former MK Haim Oron, who is chairman of the ERAN Friends Organization, said that the organization finished 2013 only because a woman willed her apartment to it and ERAN sold it when she died. “There is no way to keep the organization going. Eighty percent of the calls at night are not answered. The country can’t manage without this service, and our budget is minuscule,” Oron said.
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that some of the funds of the National Council for Preventing Suicides will be diverted to support for organizations that give help by telephone to people with emotional distress. Gamzu promised that the ministry’s supports committee will discuss this soon, apparently within a month. In recent years, ERAN received about NIS 400,000 a year from the ministry. “We are bound to help all the organizations in this category, and not only ERAN,” the director-general said. “There is no long-term procedure to ensure funding and budgets are not stable.”
Oron commented: “So the government says it doesn’t have the ability to cope with an organization like ERAN. All the ministers in all the governments hugged us, but we can’t make ends meet.”
The committee, chaired by MK Michal Biran (Labor) said that the NIS 2 million promised to ERAN must be transferred to ERAN immediately, and the ministries involved must within a month announce what steps they are taking.