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Israel has a long way to go to allow people with disabilities to live in a respectable manner in the community, said Avital Sandler- Loeff, director of JDC–Israel Unlimited on Tuesday.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post ahead of Wednesday’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Sandler-Loeff addressed the relatively new concept of developing supported housing for the disabled population in Israel.
As director of JDC-Israel Unlimited – a strategic partnership among JDC Israel, the government, and the Ruderman Family Foundation, Sandler- Loeff oversees the development of social services for the inclusion of people with disabilities in Israeli society.
“There are some one million adults with disabilities living in Israel, with approximately 10,000 living in institutions and nursing homes,” she said. “This might sound like very few people, but once you compare the numbers to the US, for example, it is a completely different picture.”
According to Sandler-Loeff, in the US more than 20,000 people with disabilities live in institutions.
“In the US, they have the option to choose between living in institutions and living in the community with supportive services that allow them to integrate into society,” she said.
People with disabilities in Israel have few living options, either finding local housing with limited supportive services or living in an institution or hostels, which are often overcrowded or unappealing.
“We have a long way to go to allow people with disabilities to live in a respectable manner in the community – we need to allow them this alternative,” she said.
The JDC-Israel Unlimited launched an supported housing pilot program nearly two years ago in three areas – Western Galilee, Ramat Gan, and Ashdod – to examine the possibility of developing a supported housing network in Israel.
As part of the program, people with disabilities are offered assistance in transitioning from their parents’ homes or institutions into the community. They have to pay for rent, often with the help of government subsidies, but continue to receive disability benefits from the National Insurance Institute for needed care.
“This system encourages disabled people to integrate into the community, to find employment, and to provide for themselves,” said Sandler-Loeff.
In addition, each person is accompanied by a case manager and mentor who teach life skills adapted to their specific needs to enable independent living – from learning to cook and running a bank account to finding a job and integrating into a social environment.
“It is very person-centered and the services provided are adapted to the needs of the individual person and his family,” she said. “We work closely with the individual before and during the transition and then our assistance is gradually reduced as he becomes more independent.”
Following the success of the pilot program, in January 2015 the supported housing pilot project is set to expand to an additional nine municipalities throughout the country.
“We still need to prove that this system is effective [in Israel] and that there are substantive services that can be offered for their living situation,” she explained.
According to Sandler-Loeff, from a long-term financial perspective, supported housing also has the added benefit of offering a more cost-effective approach to living than maintaining and operating institutions around the clock.
“In the US they have been successfully running this model for 30 years and they have proven that even people with severe disabilities can live within the community and work and contribute to society,” she explained.
“Israel still has a long way to go to allow disabled people to live with dignity, but we are starting with supported housing,” she said.
Shira Ruderman, Israel director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told the Post that a major obstacle to implementing the project in Israel stems from public attitudes regarding the inclusion of people with disabilities.
“We need to work with the families to believe in the project.
We need to prepare the young adults for independence, and we need to create services and expand quickly. We need to work on the general public attitude [to make this a success],” she said.
According to Ruderman, whose foundation has actively worked to push the initiative forward, the concept of supported housing is finally gaining traction and support from the disability leadership and the government, following its continued success in the United States.
“My hope is that this will soon become the normative approach in Israeli society.”
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