The number of the country’s youth claiming chronic financial distress and living in a condition of poverty has almost doubled in the past year, according to an annual report on the state of youth in Israel presented to the president on Sunday.
Over the course of 2014, 5,197 youth assisted by Elem, a nonprofit organization helping at-risk youth in Israel, reported living in economic hardship and poverty, a 90 percent increase over the 2,730 reports from 2013.
Upon receiving the report, President Reuven Rivlin spoke on Sunday about society’s obligation to assist those in need and the importance of nongovernmental organizations that deal with these issues.
He quoted Janusz Korczak, saying that “children are not just the future, they are also the present.”
He went on to say that both he and his wife would gladly volunteer to work with the organization.
Speaking on behalf of Elem Youth were Or Fachter, 16, and Rotem Levanon, 23. Both told their personal stories and stressed the assistance they received as essential to their ability to recover from difficult home lives. They emphasized their volunteer work with Elem, which they described as an empowering experience.
The report covered five main areas, showing a spike in the number of youth reporting lives of economic hardship and poverty, an increase in the number of online and social media sexual harassment incidents, a lack in services provided to those who are between 18 and 26 years old, a hike in reported anxiety and depression following Operation Protective Edge and an increase in the need for services for Beduin youth.
It gathered information from the approximately 25,000 youth that Elem had assisted during 2014.
Elem runs 80 projects in 43 different municipalities across the country.
This was the first year the organization heard their youth using the term “poverty” to describe themselves and their financial situation.
“More youth this year have found themselves at-risk as a result of poverty,” said Nava Barak, president of Elem. “A life of poverty leads to functional difficulties in all circles of life, such as social and learning difficulties, alongside an escape to addictive substances, crime and violence and a breakdown of parental authority as a result of the parents’ absence from the home for long hours.”
She said more youth are working to assist with family expenses, taking upon themselves routine payments such as municipal taxes, electricity and water.
While some work after school hours, many of them simply drop out of school all together.
Dr. Talia Etgar, head of the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Violence among Children and Youth at Elem, explained that online sexual violence is particularly difficult to stop, as it can go viral so quickly. She said that online offenses have developed significantly over the past two years and that the anonymity available on the Internet makes it easier for aggressors to act.
The number of youth who reported being either perpetrators or victims of online violence stands at 12,000, a 20% rise from last year’s 10,000.
The report goes on to say that between the ages of 18 and 26 there is a lack of communal services offered. Over 6,000 youth above the age of 18 turned to Elem seeking help, particularly looking for shelter and employment.
“The rent assistance is given today to those who fall under the narrow definition of ‘homeless,’ and not according to the wider definition, according to which homeless people are also ‘people sleeping in difficult conditions,’ such as conditions of severe crowding and even exploitative accommodations,” explained Efrat Shaprut, CEO of Elem.
Shaprut went on to describe the different housing projects that could assist them, including emergency housing for times of crises and transitional housing.
“Some of these models exist in Israel, but the response isn’t always enough and many youth are dealing with the difficult reality of homelessness,” she said.
On the issue of Operation Protective Edge, the report found a 30% increase in reports of anxiety and depression during the second half of 2014, starting in September, just a month after the end of the war. The reports came mainly from teens between the ages of 15 and 17, situated in the Center and the South.
Golan Journo, director of Yelem – the online assistance site for Elem, said: “We attribute the reports of the youth to a condition of post trauma, as a result of extended stay in combat zones, fear of the unknown and situations of existential threat to their lives and the lives of their family members.”
Journo said that youth had shared symptoms such as a decline in social functioning and learning, sleep disturbances, a decline in appetite and despair.
Finally, the report showed an increase in the activities for at-risk youth from the Beduin sector. Elem runs six centers for Beduin youth, four for males and two for females, an increase from the one center it operated the year before.
Amir Daloumi, director of support and information centers at Elem, described living conditions for Beduin youth as difficult and lacking in basic infrastructure. This often leads to a lack of education, unemployment, violence and crime.
“Particularly noticeable is the state of female youth who often are not allowed to continue studying beyond elementary school and do not seek work,” said Daloumi.
He continued, adding the difficulty Beduin youth have with their daily struggle as a minority in Israel, dealing with issues of identity, relationship with the state and a conflict between their traditional lifestyle and the modern world around them.