The High Court of Justice approved on Sunday a groundbreaking and more sensitive policy for dealing with homeless people and their belongings in the public sphere.
The policy was submitted jointly to the High Court in February by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and the Tel Aviv Municipality.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition to the district court against the original policy in November 2011. That policy allowed for the removal of homeless people and their belongings from public places with loose protections of their rights.
Weinstein, and now the High Court, have endorsed what they called a more “balanced” policy, in which the rights of the homeless person and the public are weighed against each other in each specific case.
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who led the panel of three justices on the case, highly recommended the new guidelines be applied nationally – and not just in Tel Aviv.
Under the new policy, a municipal inspector who encounters a homeless person in a public space will not take any action unless the person’s presence or that of his belongings prevents reasonable use of the public area by others.
This limitation recognizes that homeless people should not be moved unless there are substantiated reasons, since they do not necessarily have another place to go and cannot easily replace their belongings.
If the homeless person or their belongings prevents reasonable use of the space but the belongings are in the category of basic needs, such as food, blankets, identity information and other items, in many cases they will still not be removed.
In order to be removed, their presence – in most cases – would need to seriously or substantially limit others’ use of the public area. In those cases where the guidelines allow removal, many items must be kept in storage by the municipality for 30 days, with some items kept for 90 days.
Where possible, a notice must be given to the homeless person regarding the storage area’s location and their rights.
In the case of significant resistance from a homeless person, an inspector must contact a supervisor to get further instructions.
ACRI said the ruling marked a victory in its battle with the municipality to get it to commit to set rules that weighed not only the public’s general need for use of public spaces, but also the rights of the homeless. The NGO said the High Court upheld the lower court’s fining of the municipality of NIS 30,000 to cover its legal fees in the lower proceeding.
ACRI lawyer Gil Gan-Mor said the municipality had been forced to accept what ACRI had proposed, but said “the test would be in its implementation,” noting that past examples of abuse of homeless people by municipal inspectors cited in the petition are “prohibited” under the new rules.