Darfurians pool money to reopen TA shelter

Facility in southern neighborhood houses up to 200 homeless men, costs NIS 12,000 a month.

Migrants at Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park 390 (photo credit: Tamir Kalifa)
Migrants at Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park 390
(photo credit: Tamir Kalifa)
Jacob Beri remembers the 10 nights he spent sleeping in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park in the chill of winter in January 2008, when he arrived in Israel.
A slight 24-year-old Darfurian with a thick British accent, Beri said the experience is one of many that inspired him to re-open a shelter last week to help the hundreds of African migrants sleeping on the streets of south Tel Aviv during the coldest, wettest month of the year.
Beri is one of the leaders of the Sons of Darfur organization, which he said pooled together the money to reopen the shelter, which closed in 2010 due to a lack of funding and unwanted attention from authorities.
The shelter costs NIS 12,000 per month to rent, with municipal tax and electricity included, Beri said.
The facility, which he said houses 150 to 200 homeless migrants, includes two large rooms, bathroom and showers and a long hallway where the manager registers migrants checking in to the facility.
Those working at the facility go around the neighborhood telling migrants about the shelter, and also help teach them about their rights in Israel and offer advice on dealing with Israeli authorities, Beri said.
Still, he said the shelter’s main purpose is to provide a roof over their heads.
“Arranging visas and the rest is the business of the government; we are here to help people with whatever we can. There is rain and cold and they have no option about where to go,” he said.
He added, “They [Israeli authorities] take you from the [Egyptian] border to Tel Aviv and they just drop you off in Levinsky Park and you’re just here.”
Early Tuesday afternoon, there were only a few men were inside the shelter. A couple of them washed their feet and faces in a sink, while a few meters away two men conducted the afternoon Muslim prayers on two blankets.
The shelter is stuffy, needs a serious scrubbing, and is lit by fluorescent lights left over from when it was a bar frequented by Africans. Still, despite its less than posh interior, the shelter looks like it would be a warm place to turn to at night for the migrants whose blankets and clothes were piled high against the walls on Tuesday.
The shelter opened a few weeks after a homeless Ethiopian-Israeli, Yohanes “Yonatan” Barko, died of exposure in Levinsky Park.
Friends said Barko had spent much of the summer sleeping in a tent in Levinsky’s protest encampment, but had returned to a park bench after the tent city was dismantled by Tel Aviv Municipality clerks in September.
Beri said Barko’s death had motivated him and others in the community, who mobilized to open the shelter, saying that they “didn’t want to hear any more bad news.”
Beri hopes to keep the shelter open until the warmer summer weather begins, but said that he doesn’t know where the money for rent will come from.
“I don’t have enough money, but I have no choice, I can’t send them outside to the streets,” he said.
The Tel Aviv Municipality spokesman said on Monday that it operates three shelters that provide food and lodging for homeless people – a womens-only shelter, one for male drug users, and one for recovering male drug users.
The city provides treatment for around 700 homeless people, with a significant portion of them receiving help in finding housing and employment, the spokesman said.