35 homeless families in Jerusalem still living in tents

As tents removed from Rothschild Blvd. in Tel Aviv, Homeless families worry that their situation will be forgotten.

Jerusalem Tent 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Jerusalem Tent 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
More than 35 families in Jerusalem are still languishing in squalid tent encampments across the city and say they have nowhere else to go, just a day after the cabinet passed the Trajtenberg report, which offered suggestions for the government to affect widespread socioeconomic change.
As the focus of the summer protests shifts into the political arena and the final tents were removed from Rothschild Blvd., the homeless families are worried that their dire situation will be forgotten.
“This struggle is personal; it comes from the depths of my heart and serious distress,” said Noga Stern, a mother of eight who has lived with her husband and children in tents in Gan Hasus (Horse Park) and Gan Ha’ir (City Park) since mid- July.
There are tent cities in Gan Ha’atzmaut, Gan Ha’ir, Gan Sacher and Kiryat Yovel.
Some of the tent residents have met with representatives from the municipality, the Construction and Housing Ministry and semi-public housing companies that run the public housing in Jerusalem, but the meetings have not reached any compromises.
The municipality offered a basket of benefits over a month ago to the families, which included a one-time grant of NIS 2,000 and breaks of up to NIS 1,000 on their rent, a gesture the activists said did not go far enough to solving their problems.
Most of the families left in the tent cities have been on the waitlist for public housing in Jerusalem for years, and say they can no longer stay with relatives or friends while waiting for their name to come up for one of the scarce spots in public housing.
“Everyone who can give a hand to help with the issue of public housing needs to slam their hand down on the table and say, ‘This is not acceptable!’” said Valerie Briga, a Jerusalem resident who has lived for three months in a tent with her two children, aged 10 and 13.
“They passed the Trajtenberg recommendations, but people are still going to stay poor, and meanwhile, we’re trying to figure out how to survive until tomorrow,” said Briga.
The Gan Ha’ir tent city is strewn with discarded clothes, trash, mattresses and broken toys. Flies buzz ceaselessly around the common areas, and the residents are exhausted by many months of urban camping and constant bickering with one another as they wait for a solution. Briga and Stern said they worried about their children being exposed to drugs and alcohol while living in the downtown city park.
Briga said that municipality representatives have visited them to try to convince the tent encampments to unite in Gan Sacher, a move the residents resent as an attempt to move them out of sight and out of mind. Yehuda Peretz, a Jerusalem resident who has been living in Gan Ha’atzmaut for three months, accused the municipality of trying to make a “ghetto” by uniting all the tent cities in Gan Sacher.
“We’re not afraid of Barkat; he’s not moving even our bellybuttons,” said Peretz.
“They call us ‘the tough seeds,’ because people here are ready to take him down. There are criminals here who don’t think about consequences,” he said, adding that violence would probably ensue if the municipality attempted to evict them from the park.
A municipality spokesman said the city was in constant contact with the various tent cities, and confirmed that the city hoped to move all of the tent cities to Gan Sacher in the near future.
“[The move] will allow a balance between their needs to express their protest and the maintenance of public order,” said the spokesman.
He added that the municipality was trying to help the Construction and Housing Ministry find more permanent housing solutions for the families.
In Gan Ha’ir, residents worried that the municipality would try to evict them after Succot, but vowed that they would stay in protest tents until they had their own apartments, even if that meant living in tents over the winter. Stern and Briga were already brainstorming ways to stay warm during the coming months, including putting smaller tents inside a large army tent to avoid the heavy rainfall.