Report: 30,000 youths roaming the streets at night

Elem organization cites rise of 10% in the number of children ages 10-13 at risk.

youth arrest 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
youth arrest 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A growing number of Israeli teens lack parental or adult supervision and as a consequence are free to roam the streets until the early hours of the morning, according to the annual report published Wednesday by non-profit organization Elem, which helps youth at risk through a variety of programs. Figures presented in the report, which was forwarded to Acting President and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik on Wednesday ahead of the organization's annual fundraising campaign, highlighted that more than 30,000 youth wandered the streets at night in 2006 while their parents worked or due to strained relations at home, a rise of 10 percent from the previous year. The statistics were based on data collected by the organization's social workers and volunteers, who regularly patrol the streets in 26 Israeli cities with Elem-mobile units, which succeeded in providing some degree of assistance to more than half of those they met on the streets. Of the 800,000 youth living in Israel, one quarter are considered at-risk with half of that number in serious or immediate danger, said the report. Elem director Tzion Gabai said that the most alarming figure presented in the report was the growth in the number of children as young as 10-13 who were left with no adult supervision and took to wandering around the streets at night. "We are meeting younger and younger youths on our rounds," he said. "Most come from families who are not active in bringing them up and they [the families] are already being treated by social welfare services. These children have no supportive framework to keep them busy in the afternoon or evening hours, some of them have stormy relationships with their families or parents who are too busy working to take care of them. "These children are left to wander the streets until the early hours of the morning and immediately become more exposed to drug and alcohol abuse." While 2006 did not see a rise in the number of Israeli youth permanently living on the streets - the figure stood at 10,000 - Elem workers did report a dramatic rise in drug and alcohol abuse by all homeless youths. The figures collected by the organization from various sources showed a 50% increase over the last three years in the number of teenage girls in distress, with the estimated total standing at 34,000 [more than half are not formally treated]. And while the overwhelming majority - 73% - of those roaming the streets at night with no place to go were male, the number of female teens out on the streets is growing. Until five years ago it was rare for the girls to be wandering around at night, said the report. Elem also highlighted the plight of Israel's teenage immigrant community, saying that 21% of adolescents approached by the organization's workers out on the streets were from the former Soviet Union, twice as many as the Israeli-born population. The percentage of Ethiopian immigrant youth was 12 times as many as their Israeli counterparts. Founded in 1981 by volunteers from Israel and the US, Elem's aim is to help youth at risk eventually become productive citizens. Its annual fund raising project "Lights of Hope" invites the public to make a donation via text message and "light up" one of the 590,000 lights on an enormous Star of David flag raised Wednesday on the side of the Azrieli Center's square building in Tel Aviv. In January, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched a NIS 200 million program aimed at reducing the number of children and youth at risk. The four-year project will provide financial aid to just under half of the children considered at risk here.