A hostel for homeless people? Not in Zichron Ya'akov
Recently, journalist Or Kashti published a number of articles on the struggle led by residents of Zichron Ya'akov against the establishment of a hostel for homeless people. The struggle began after a company won a tender offered by the Ministry of Social Affairs to establish a such a hostel. The company located a suitable building in Zichron Ya'akov and rented it from its owners. However, when this became known to the residents of the neighborhood, they rushed to organize in opposition to its establishment, distributing false, distorted information about the alleged danger to the residents, and even initiated legal proceedings. This is a NIMBY - Not in My Back Yard struggle driven by stigmas, irrational anxieties, and a strong population's opposition to integrate populations in need of welfare services.
On February 18, 2019, the Magistrate's Court reached a verdict for a settlement agreement between the residents who filed the claim, the owner of the building, and the company. The settlement agreement in our possession indicates that the company agreed to undertake not to build the hostel in the building it rented or in Zichron Ya'akov at large, and not to establish any other framework for at-risk populations in Zichron Ya'akov. In return, the company will receive NIS 499,000 from the residents and property owner.
This settlement agreement sets a grave and dangerous precedent according to which a service provider acting on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs can be "paid off" through "bribe" so as not to establish its frameworks in a particular locality, even when there is no reason whatsoever to prevent the establishment of the hostel. This implies that residents of economically viable places, with the support and encouragement of the local council, will be able to join forces to prevent the emergence of certain frameworks in their environment through their capital, which is of course not possible for less endowed communities. Moreover, this precedent embodies a clear disincentive to all ministry service providers to make an effort to establish frameworks in well-endowed areas, and will direct them in advance to locate structures in weaker areas, in a manner that would undermine the principle of distributive justice and equality.
On March 6, 2019, we contacted the Director General of the Ministry of Welfare along with Bizchut - The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities. The petition, written by Attorney Gil Gan-Mor of ACRI and Naama Lerner of Bizchut, claimed that the Ministry of Welfare's inaction and weak reaction to the aforementioned incident is unacceptable. The ministry's silence legitimizes well-off residents' resistance and their ability to prevent the emergence of frameworks for welfare patients by paying a "bribe" that will harm both patients and residents of less affluent localities, in which such frameworks will emerge to a much greater extent than is desirable or equitable. The petition claims that the ministry must protect welfare patients' rights to dignity, to frameworks within the community that enable them to lead normal lives to the greatest extent possible, and their right to live anywhere.
We demanded that the company be summoned to a hearing and that it consider whether its actions violated the terms of the tender, which justifies annulment of the contract. We also demanded consideration of the possibility of freezing the possibility of the company, along with any other company’s capacity to act in a similar manner, upon addressing future tenders for an undetermined period. Furthermore, we demanded that means of addressing similar cases be determined, including the claim that there is room for the Ministry of Social Affairs to actively oppose residents' mobilization of the sort associated with NIMBY. Passivity and sitting on the fence will encourage similar struggles in the future, as this proves that aggressive resistance leads to the desired result.
In addition, we contacted Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber regarding the Zichron Ya'akov Local Council's involvement in the struggle. Among other things, the council was involved in the civilian procedure initiated by the residents, which is not an official party, and helped them reach the payment agreement. The council head also helped to obtain the required amount and asked the residents to donate NIS 1,000 to the family. The letter claimed that the local council has no authority to intervene in a civil conflict regarding issues on whose behalf it is not authorized to act, and that it must return any public money invested in these proceedings and cease collection of the payment.
Appeal by ACRI and Bizchut to the director of the Ministry of Social Affairs (Hebrew), 6.3.2019
Company response (Hebrew), 13.3.2019
ACRI's appeal to the Deputy Attorney General (Hebrew), 6.3.2019