Being 'Homeless' or 'Roofless' in Israel

It has been over a year since the Social Affairs Ministry released the largest study produced for 15 years into homelessness in Israel.[1] At the time, the figures stood at an estimated 2,300 homeless individuals, with only 1,300 of them actually recognised as homeless due to the limited definition of the term.[2] According to the Ministry’s definition, there is a difference between being a street resident i.e. living on the streets and being ‘temporarily homeless’, or roofless.[3]

This means that those not classed as street residents or dwellers (who are dealt with by the Social Affairs Ministry), but roofless, for example young people, the elderly, those released from prison and families, struggle to access support and services from the separate Health, Social Affairs, and Housing Ministries which don’t have a unified strategy. Therefore not only is there no coordinated response, this lack of collaboration “makes it difficult to develop a policy of preliminary prevention.”[4]

So how has this crisis arisen and what does it mean for those not defined as street dwellers?

To understand this we need to see the bigger context of Israel where poverty affects millions of Israelis every day, defining their lives and ability to flourish. While it is undeniable that Israel is doing well economically on many accounts[5], according to a study by the Taub Centre[6] the problem is that the wealth, although accumulated by taxes, is not trickling down to those who live in poverty. This is supported by a Bank of Israel report in 2015[7] that stated that ‘when we measure poverty in net terms – in other words, disposable income after government intervention – Israel is in the second-worst place [out of the OECD members]: Only Mexico is poorer.’ 

Essentially the system of allowances to reduce poverty is stingy in Israel, and this creates a situation where the government’s influence when it comes to curtailing poverty is 30% – as compared to 60% in other developed countries. In other words, Israel’s assistance to its poor is half that of the OECD countries.[8]

The housing market in Israel further compounds this situation today. There is a lack of public housing stock due to a right to buy scheme for long term residents with a 90% discount. The government is struggling to find suitable accommodation for those in need, in an environment where rental prices are also increasingly unaffordable for large numbers of people. However, while rent prices have increased, the state is failing to increase subsidies to help those who find the shortfall between their income and their outgoings ever increasing. [9]

As a direct consequence of these factors, there are families, singles and elderly people (including Holocaust survivors)[10] who do not have a permanent roof over the heads, who rely on their family or friends, cramped into rooms, outhouses, tents or even their cars, despite having work and, often, full time jobs. For these families, failed by the State which does not recognise them as street dwellers and thus does not prioritise them for social housing, they must live day to day in poverty, without much recourse to support and only limited public funds.[11]

A year on from the Social Affairs Ministry report, it is hard to say much has changed or anything is being done by the State to tackle the daily crisis faced by thousands of families. And so, it is necessary that the nonprofit sector steps in to help give the support that is severely lacking. Our incubee Israel Homeless Association (IHA) helps professionals and families that have been made homeless due to the collapse of Israel's socio-economic safety net. IHA provides financial and legal assistance to those in crisis, helping to provide a safe, clean home for the long term. 

With the assistance of Members of the Knesset, IHA succeeded in relocating seven families living in a tent city in Beer Sheva subject to an evacuation order. There is still much work to be done as other families were forcibly removed, resulting in a woman’s suicide. For $5,000 IHA can house an entire family for a year and for $25,000 IHA can build a complete Family in Crisis Center for an entire community.