Homeless families vow to stay in J’lem park

City offers them grants for rent, residents afraid they will be forgotten if they leave.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 10, 2012 03:52
3 minute read.
Poor woman [illustrative]

A poor woman poverty impoverished homeless 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Despite the bitter cold, 16 families who have spent the past six months living in tents and shacks in the capital’s Sacher Park said they will fight to stay in their protest tents until they receive permanent housing.

More than 60 people, including 22 children, spend their nights huddled around bonfires in wooden lean-tos at the edge of Sacher Park.

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They are the last remnants of the summer’s tent protests.

They say they have nowhere else to go.

On Sunday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat met with three representatives of the tent encampment and gave them an ultimatum: two weeks until officials forcibly remove them.

But the mayor also proposed a temporary solution, a six-month grant for rental assistance of up to NIS 2,800 per month per family, which would be supplemented by an additional grant from the Construction and Housing Ministry.

He also offered this to the 25 families in Binyan Klal next to the Mahaneh Yehuda market, who have been living in empty offices for two months, after leaving other tent encampments in Independence Park and the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood.



The emergency housing grants will cost a total of NIS 300,000.

But the families scoffed at the mayor’s proposal, because it might require them to move to public housing in the periphery, including in Beit She’an or Beersheba.

“How can they take me from the one place that I might actually be able to get help and support?” asked Orgad Kedem, a Jerusalem native and a single mother of a seven-year-old boy.

Kedem insisted that rather than temporary solutions from the city, the families wanted permanent solutions from the Construction and Housing Ministry that would enable them to stay in Jerusalem, near family members and their support networks.

Kedem said Barkat also wanted them to sign a document saying they would not come back to live in a protest tent city in Sacher Park in the summer.

“They want to throw us from the street back to the street,” she said. “They don’t care that we have small kids, that we’re suffering in the cold and the rain,” she added.

Tuesday is the six-month anniversary of when the first families set up their tents in Sacher Park, roughly a month before the student tent protests of the summer began.

The document that would prevent them from returning to protest tents is problematic for the activists, who worry that the state will forget about them if they are out of sight and are anxious about finding themselves with even less options in six months, City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz) said. He sits on the board of the soon-to-be defunct Prazot Company, a semi-public company that administers public housing in the capital.

“I understand they’re scared, but to stay in the parks for the winter is not an option, and the state won’t give them a better solution,” Margalit said. “We’re not going to forget them, we’re going to continue this fight.”

The city council has approved an outline for closing Prazot within two years and transferring its apartments to Amidar, a similar company which also operates public housing in Jerusalem.

Prazot has an estimated NIS 130 million in its coffers, which is supposed to be dedicated to public housing in the city.

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