Israel has one of the highest poverty rates among developed countries. In 2016, approximately 21% of Israelis were below the poverty line. Despite this prevalent issue, the country has yet to adopt a system for combating homelessness. The Israeli Association for Civil Rights reported 25,000 homeless people residing in Israel, though the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services accounted for just 1,872 people living on the streets. Due to social services’ stringent standards for qualifying people as “homeless,” thousands of street dwellers and otherwise vulnerable people are unable to find permanent housing and meet their basic living needs. These three organizations have acknowledged the housing crisis and are fighting homelessness in Israel by providing positive communities, social support and safe housing opportunities to those most in need.
3 Organizations Fighting Homelessness in Israel
- Homeless World Cup Foundation. This organization works in Tel Aviv to support Football for the Homeless, a program that coordinates weekly training sessions for homeless adults. The Homeless World Cup Foundation organizes an annual week-long soccer tournament with over 500 players from countries around the world, all of whom have experienced homelessness. In 2019, the Cardiff 2019 Homeless World Cup attracted over 80,000 spectators as well as millions of online viewers. Participants’ social workers typically refer them to the Football for the Homeless training program. In addition to playing soccer, participants can gain coaching qualifications to help maintain the program’s sustainable business structure. In 2019, Israel sent three teams (two from Tel Aviv and one from Jerusalem) with four players each to the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff, Wales.
- Israel Homeless Association. The Israel Homeless Association (IHA) supports young professionals and families who have become homeless due to economic upheaval in the Middle East and diminishing social services in Israel. Examples of such beneficiaries include young parents living in tent cities or those unable to afford public transportation to work outside of their neighborhood. For three consecutive years, IHA has provided clothing to every person registered with the Homeless Offices in Beer Sheva and Eilat. The organization also collaborated with members of the Knesset to relocate seven families subject to forcible evacuation in Beer Sheva, and later distributed over $7,500 worth of toys to 130 displaced children in the Negev region. Such accolades have contributed to IHA’s ranking as one of the premier micro-charities in Israel.
- ELEM / Youth in Distress in Israel. ELEM / Youth in Distress in Israel aims to “treat and transform” the lives of vulnerable young people in Israel. ELEM’s 285 professionals and 2,000 volunteers make the organization one of the region’s leading nonprofits. ELEM serves 21,000 youth on an annual basis and cites the 100,000 children seeking its services as evidence for the urgent need to support Israel’s young people in crisis. This year, ELEM funded 82 youth programs that provide services such as mentoring, counseling and vocational training in 42 cities across Israel. To help protect highly vulnerable young women living on the street, ELEM founded The Shelter for Homeless Young Women in Jerusalem. The shelter serves 18- to 26-year-old women struggling with substance use disorders, prostitution and estranged family members. This space offers these women unconditional humanitarian aid, clothing, hot food, showers and legal advice. In 2018, the shelter succeeded in increasing street patrols to protect vulnerable women in the neighborhood, developing a professional training course for new volunteers and moving to a renovated new building. In the future, ELEM hopes to further develop the shelter to allow for extended opening hours and continued support for young women following their stays at the shelter.
A Long-term Solution
Due to the dynamic and diverse nature of homelessness, Israel’s policies governing social and housing services struggle to account for a significant portion of this population. The aforementioned organizations work to fill the housing gap that the government left by creating positive and sustainable living experiences for Israel’s homeless population; however, additional work is necessary to reduce homelessness in Israel.
In response to the city’s homelessness crisis, the Tel Aviv municipality is planning to implement Housing First programming. Housing First is an innovative model for addressing urban homelessness that multiple cities across the United States has already adopted along with countries including France, Denmark and Finland.
In exchange for 30% of their income and coordinated check-ins from program representatives, Housing First residents have 24/7 access to a one-room apartment and other long-term benefits. Following their transitions into permanent housing, residents receive supportive services and swift connection to opportunities within their local communities.
In January 2020, Housing First was still in its very early planning stages and some have noted the significant need for government funding; however, Tel Aviv City Hall states that its social services department continues to closely investigate the model. Despite the financial and political challenges of implementing a new strategy for managing homelessness in Israel, city officials reported that “the existing solutions are short-term and in too many cases don’t free the homeless from the circle of suffering…we are not giving up and are examining innovative methods used around the world.”