Poverty levels reach worrying levels

Almost one-fifth of families and more than one-third of children in the Haifa district are considered poor.

Almost one-fifth of families and more than one-third of children in the Haifa district are considered poor, according to the latest poverty report issued by the National Insurance Institute. The city's welfare department is currently assisting some 18,000 families and has raised its welfare budget from NIS 174 million last year to NIS 185 million this year, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. According to the report, the statistics for Haifa show less poverty than Jerusalem, as well as the northern and southern districts, but significantly greater poverty than the Tel Aviv district. The figures, which relate to the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007, show that 19.5 percent of families and 33.7% of children in Haifa are considered poor. The report pointed to a significant growth in the number of "working poor," in which at least one adult in the family is employed. The head of the city's welfare department, Pini Vegman, said the city was currently assisting 18,000 families and had increased its welfare budget by NIS 11 million this year in order to meet the demand. He said that among the services provided by the department to needy families were purchases of medicines and household goods, as well as programs for youth at risk, girls in crisis, the disabled, children and adults in general. Vegman said Haifa had more volunteer organizations than any other city in Israel, with some 18,000 volunteers - 4,000 of them in the municipal welfare service - and 200 recognized organizations distributing food and clothing to the needy. He said the welfare department would focus on two main areas this year: creating an employment center to help the unemployed find work, especially Ethiopian immigrants, single-parent families and families damaged by drug abuse; and creating a social and communal program in conjunction with the University of Haifa to help poor families break the cycle of poverty.