Home free?

The city has found a temporary solution for the single mothers and homeless people who have been living in Sacher Park.

Homeless mother 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Homeless mother 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It’s no secret that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was, to put it mildly, not fond of the protest tents at Sacher Park, the last remnants of this summer’s nationwide protest movement. However (unlike his counterpart in Tel Aviv) Barkat showed some sympathy for the homeless families and single mothers who remained in their tents after the protesters on Rothschild Boulevard and elsewhere had packed up and left.
Right from the beginning, the city administration has been trying to find real solutions, both short- and long-term, for these people. However, “seek and ye shall find” apparently doesn’t cover money. Several solutions were proposed, but to implement them Barkat needed money, money he insisted had to come from the government, and the government insisted had to come from the municipality.
Several city councillors tried to convince Barkat, without success, that with winter coming on, the money had to come out of the municipal budget, at least for now.
Then, at the end of last week, the deadlock was broken. The money required to provide a temporary solution for the 27 families at Sacher Park and the Clal Building – NIS 325,000 – mysteriously appeared on Barkat’s desk.
Well, maybe not so mysteriously, at least to faithful readers of In Jerusalem, who might recall hearing about the government’s decision to close down the Prazot public-housing organization and the municipality’s struggle to get its hands on the society’s cash, to the tune of approximately NIS 130 million.
Barkat accepted the closure of Prazot on the condition that its funding would go to the municipality, promising it would be used to help the city’s needy families. However, members of Prazot’s board of directors, principally City Council member Meir Margalit (Meretz), warned the mayor at the time that once the company was shut down, the chances of ever getting the money from the Treasury without strings attached were very low.
Barkat seems to have hesitated, but, as Margalit himself admits, he understood he had no choice and so set about trying to convince the city council to accept the Treasury’s conditions, until recently apparently without success. Then, for reasons that are still unclear, the Finance Ministry offered to advance NIS 325,000 on the total sum to help the families through the cold winter months.
Did somebody apparently realize that women and children, including two infants, sleeping outside in the cold was something that couldn’t wait?
Margalit initially wanted to hold out for the whole NIS 130m. but realized that the NIS 325,000 would make the difference between children sleeping in a tent in the rain and cold or under a decent roof. Barkat also hesitated initially before giving the municipality’s welfare services department the go-ahead.
As a result of all this, as of this week homeless families with four or more children will get a monthly grant of NIS 2,800, on top of the NIS 700 to NIS 1,800 they get from the Construction and Housing Ministry, and single mothers will get NIS 1,800 (also on top of the support from the ministry).
The grant will remain in effect for six months, considered to be sufficient time in which to find more permanent solutions while at the same time sparing these families from the harsh winter weather.
So far, two of the single mothers have voiced opposition to the move, out of fears that once their tents disappear from the landscape, nobody will care about them anymore and the pressure to find permanent solutions will dissipate, resulting in them being back on the streets in a few months.
“They may be right” admits Margalit, “but nevertheless, staying there, outside in the Jerusalem winter, is a crime against the children, so I hope those two will also agree. But still, what bothers me the most is that we could have done this a few weeks ago. [We could have] used the city’s money and gotten it back later. But after all, better late than never.”