Friday, April 25

Murder at the "Gagon", the Jaffa shelter for the homeless

The body of a man appearing to be in his forties (but homeless often look much older than they really are, life on the streets is rough and tough on the human body) was found early this morning at the entrance of the Jaffa "Gagon" shelter for the homeless.

"Gagon" is Hebrew for "small roof".
Today Tel Aviv has a few "gagonim", the Jaffa one is for men with addiction problems and in the Tel Aviv central bus station area there is another one for homeless women. There is also another one for non-addicted men. And many more are needed. Homeless people sleep in corners, in ruins, in building sites, on park benches and in the area of the central bus station. Or in bus stops in the main streets, or in the lovely little park next to the HaBima Theatre and the Rubinstein pavilion. Some construct small shelters out of boxes and plastic bags. Others try to attract as little attention as possible, so they will not be evicted by the neighbours.

During the day hours, when the Jaffa shelter is closed, many of the addicted homeless men hang around in the northern part of Jerusalem Boulevard begging for money from the drivers stopping at the traffic lights. Some give, others look straight forward, as if they do not see anyone, or play with the buttons of the car stereo or advanced GPS system. Homeless are sort of "see through" to many people, i guess.
Yet, each of them has a story to tell, and usually it is sad; Migration, alienation, a ruined marriage, unemployment. But once life was different, there were hopes, ideas and dreams.

This weekend's "Ha'aretz tells about 1000 homeless teenagers and young people on the Tel Aviv streets. Elem, an NGO, operates a day-center for the young, but no shelter. The young homeless have no where to sleep. Unless a cheap hotel with a client is considered "somewhere to sleep".

A man lost his life. There are wounds on his body. A fight between drug or alcohol addicts , they say. He hasn't yet been identified, apparently he wasn't one of the gagon's "regulars".
What kind of person was he?
Did he have a good childhood, with games and fun and laughter? Was he a good student or was school more of a punishment to him? Did he create anything or keep his poems in a drawer? Did he love anyone and was he loved? By whom? Will anyone cry for him? Will there be a minyan at his burial?
Will his grave be unmarked?

Homelessness is a matter of social justice. Homelessness is NOT God-given. It's a problem that CAN and SHOULD be solved, Shelters are not more than an emergency solution.
The Tel Aviv municipality started a special welfare unit for the homeless. I tried to contact them just before the holiday in order to receive aid for a young woman with retardation who has been -on and off- out on the streets for the last three years. They did not answer the phone nor return calls.

Talk on the street is that three people, a woman and two men, have been arrested or at least brought in for interrogation.


Lirun said...

a subject that is close to my heart..

wrote a song about homeless people once.. you can hear it at its the second one..

also have a friend who works at elem..

every time work has left over food i collect it and bring it to the open kitchen near where the homeless people hang out in north yaffo..

one of my best friends from school in israel is now basically homeless.. as he described it once.. a bicycle with no pedals.. he breaks my heart.. when he sees me in the street once every few years it takes him a few minutes to recognise me.. and i lose touch with my own reality - afraid of looking cheery - weary of being too depressing - missing our days as kids under the sun.. im haunted by memories of my friend when his life was different.. i look at him and somehow identify similarities between the person he once was and the shadow of that person that he now is..

i have no idea how you solve the problems of people like this..

yudit said...

Thanks, Lirun and thanks for your activities.

I think the solution lays in much better social work (which means funding) from a very young age on.

It also means providing true housing solutions to those who cannot afford it, because they are addicted (which can bee seen as an illness) or no longer functional due to often, a combination of mental problems, depression, and a general inability to cope.
Many of those people could have been helped BEFORE they became actually homeless or in the first stages of homelessness, which is the stage at which massive help can turn the clock backwards as it were.
Funny enough, the homelessness welfare unit of the municipality demands someone be homeless and out on the streets for at least 6 months before he or she becomes eligible.
For young people there are many successful intervention models, but, except for Beit HaShanti, none are being tried here.

It really is a matter of priorities.

Lirun said...

i think its a really interesting topic..

my friend back at school was one of the smartest in our grade.. by far the best looking - best mannered - most popular amongst the chicks and most revered amongst the blokes.. he had it all.. or so it seemed..

somehow we never noticed that we only had two pairs of pants and 2 t shirts.. he always was so well presented that you would never assume hardship..

i can understand intervention for cases that are borderline early on.. i have no idea how obvious the propensity for homelessness is..

over the years i have sought him out.. called his relatives.. tried to keep in touch and he has always slipped away..

they funded his rented apartment in south telaviv for a few years and put him through enough rehab and i guess to no avail..

on another note.. yesterday on my way home i saw a lady crouching by the side of the street sorting through some boxes.. i was looking for parking because my little alley was surprisingly full.. and when i lapped the block the second time i notice she wasnt alone.. she was there with a little girl and they were both sifting through the boxes for left over fruit and veggies from the store..

i grabbed the first bill in my pocket and i was intent on humbly making an offering but by the time i parked the car they were already crossing the street in a rush.. at which point i overheard a little bit of their conversation.. the lady sounded like she was speaking to a boyfriend of hers and the little girl in perfect eloquence was insisting "tell him that i love him.. tell him that i love him!"

my mind then drifted into countless options of the plot to which this scenario might have belonged to and the only thing i know for sure is that children shouldnt have to eat the scraps that fall onto sidewalks..

i guess things could always be worse..

yudit said...

In order to start any kind of rehabilitation, the first ting needed are secure and safe surroundings, a home of some sorts. Thus the family of the guy did the right thing, at least for some time, or so it appears.

"Elem" did a very large research project into the factors leading to homelessness, and prostitution. A large group of multi lingual information technologists (is that what librarians are being called these days?) sate and over an extended period of time read all research there is in the world more or less about the topic.

Some understanding can be gathered from it:
Homelessness and prostitution (or suing sex as a means and tool to survive) are closely related to prolonged child abuse in the family or in its close surroundings.

Drugs come in later, because it is too painful to be involved in prostitution (average entry age 13) without some psycho-active substance. Drug dependency evolves at a slightly later age.

Another group of homeless people are those released from mental hospitals without anywhere to get true support inside the community.
The idea was to have less institutionalised people and "tghe community would take more responsibility". Only the community wasn't given the financial means to pay for that coping.
As a result countless "broken" people are "released" onto the streets without any financial means nor skills to care for themselves.

Again a matter of finances, as there are good models of hostels and protected living environments inside the community.

It's just a matter of money

Lirun said...

interesting.. i should talk to my friend from elem about it..

my school friend's family left a kibbutz at a time when the kibbutzs werent doing so well.. i guess had they stuck it through they might have been well off today but i know that money was always scarce..

he went off the edge after a trip to south east asia where some drug experimentation took him too far and he was hospitalised many times since.. as you say - while his family loved him dearly.. they lacked the tools to deal with his condition.. and this golden child now looks like a very very old man.. nothing left of his perfect smile.. only a hint through his eyes when he focusses..

seriously breaks my heart..

yudit said...

I can imagine it must feel helpless in face of so much suffering and little ability to provide significant help.
There have been a few successful projects aiding long term homeless in Europe. These projects are very labour intensive and demand a great commitment form the case work, who has to take things as slowly as the clients need it.
Many Israeli services prefer to act "as if they do something", without really trying to solve the problem at hand.
The article in today's Ha'aretz talks about 1000 YOUNG homeless in Tel Aviv.
If the municipality REALLY wanted they could do something about that. then perhaps some of these kids will have a real chance and not end up like your friend, who maybe is beyond it.
But even then, for people in his situation good support systems can be created, i think.