ACRI: Government lacks policies, real solutions for the homeless

NGO says definition of 'homelessness' should be expanded.

homeless 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
homeless 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel lags far behind other Western countries in its treatment of the homeless and lacks serious policies or real solutions to help them break out of the cycle of poverty, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a report published on Tuesday. Harshly criticizing the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and the Construction and Housing Ministry, as well as local authorities, for failing to provide appropriate solutions to those living on the streets or in low-grade housing, the report said there was no official government address for the homeless to seek help, with each government office denying its role. "We were most shocked to find that there is no real address to help these people," said ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor, who authored the report together with attorney Dana Freibach-Heifetz and students from Tel Aviv University. "The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services gives a certain type of help and then passes the responsibility onto the Ministry of Construction and Housing, which seems to have no clear policy on the matter," he said. According to the report, which is titled "No Address - Violation of the rights of homeless people in Israel: An overview of the situation and recommendations for new policies," what is also sorely lacking are detailed statistics or even general information on the problem. "It is important that the public knows about this problem because they will be the ones to pressure the government to change the situation," Gan-Mor said, adding that ACRI was considering drafting legislation to broaden the civil rights of the homeless. "In many Western countries today, the focus is more on preventing individuals or families from ending up on the streets, as opposed to here, where the help only comes once the situation is extreme," he said. The report severely criticizes the two ministries for only dealing with cases where people have been sleeping on the street for a month or more but refusing to help those whose living conditions are substandard or inhumane. "At the Ministry of Housing and Construction, help is only given when people have been living on the streets for more than 30 days," reads the report. "But for other homeless people, no clear policy exists in either government office. In many cases, the responsibility is simply passed back from one to the other." In the introduction to the report, the authors identify one of the main problems as outdated perceptions of how a person becomes homeless and old-fashioned definitions of the phenomenon. While in Israel many people still believe that homelessness is the person's own fault, today in most Western countries such a life-style is viewed as the result of a severe social breakdown, perhaps due to the government's economic or housing policies, according to the report. The definition of homelessness has also changed, with sleeping on the street, in a park or in another public place being the most extreme form, while those who live in temporary housing, in structures unfit for human habitation and those under permanent threat of eviction should also considered "homeless" in a sense, says the report. "It really should be measured on a scale," explained Gan-Mor. "Today, a homeless person could be considered someone who does not have a permanent roof over their head." In response to the report, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry said that under its mandate of caring for weaker segments of the populations, its role was to work with local authorities to help those living on the streets, and not those homeless in another definition of the word. "There is a division of responsibility between the government offices, finding housing for people is not our job," a spokeswoman said, adding that the ministry kept records on how many people were living on the street and was working hard to improve the situation. "We work together with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services to provide support for the homeless," said a spokeswoman for the Construction and Housing Ministry. "Whoever fits the specifications determined by social workers is entitled to receive NIS 1,044 in rental subsidies per month for two years, with single-parent families receiving additional income support." The ministry's main role in the process was to verify that the person applying for housing assistance had no other dwelling registered in their name and that once he or she qualified for help, assistance was received within a week.