Demonstrators placed a mock coffin in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday night to protest the death of Yohanes Barko, a 40-year-old homeless man who froze to death in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park two weeks ago.
Around three dozen people gathered in Jerusalem to demand that the government create more affordable housing and use the empty buildings owned by the state for housing homeless families. A memorial service for Barko was also held on Saturday night in Levinsky Park.
“What makes this particularly awful is that his tent was torn down [when municipal inspector took down the tents in Levinsky Park in October],” said Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the head of Rabbis for Human Rights.
“He could have had shelter. It wouldn’t have been great living in a tent but he may not have frozen to death. This is our message here tonight – that there is direct responsibility for his death,” he said.
A mock coffin was covered with candles as demonstrators implored the authorities to step in before more homeless people freeze to death. Barko had lived in the Levinsky tent encampment since the beginning of the summer.
“Exactly where – I want you to answer me, Mr. Prime Minister – exactly where did you want him to go?” asked Vikki Vanunu, a homeless activist in Jerusalem.
“You try sleeping one night in the cold of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
“There shouldn’t be empty buildings while people are dying in the streets,” Vanunu told The Jerusalem Post after the protest ended.
At least 50 African migrants and other homeless people still sleep in Levinsky Park each night, curled up together on rubber mats in a vain effort to keep warm. Volunteers and NGOs cook them meals and hand out blankets, but they warn that it is not enough and that other homeless people in the park are also at risk of death from exposure.
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Ben Hartman contributed to this report.