While getting his master’s degree in social work, Omri Abramovich, also a psychotherapist, took notice of the phenomenon of homeless people: how many there are, how ignored they are, and how they live. He’s been exploring it ever since, sometimes even taking to the streets himself to experience the life of a street dweller.
Making friends with the homeless, he quickly realized their sole focus: survival. How people eat, where they sleep, go to the bathroom, and how they retain humanity in a culture with no empathy is the challenge. While many people think the homeless become so because of drug use and addiction, for many, using drugs is a result of their need to survive living on the street, which has a steep psychosocial impact.
In the 1990s, there was an increased wave of homeless people in Israel. With the incoming immigration of about one million people from Russia, Israeli health care and welfare rules quickly tightened, and so did the number of resources for people who need psychiatric help. This gap in resources amplified those already struggling for their most basic needs, many of whom were forced onto the street. In the early stages, about 70% of the homeless were Russian immigrants, some of whom came from successful lives in Russia only to start at phase one with no support. Today, at least 50% are Israeli natives.
Considered “street dwellers” by the state, the title essentially alleviates the government from responsibility. The title only Israeli citizens over the age of 18. Currently, there are 2,500 street dwellers registered in the system; however, a study done by Dr. Shmuel Sheintoch estimates that there are 18,000 homeless people struggling on the streets. Many of the non-immigrants and the thousands of teens are mostly served by nonprofit organizations.
When asked why people land on the street, Abramovich believes the wider structural issues outweigh the personal reasons. He says that “the most significant element in capitalist societies – unjust distribution of resources. Generally, we see an interplay of both, though I believe structural causes are more dominant.”
“Even if the trigger is a personal problem such as addiction, in the background there are always structural problems of poverty, discrimination, immigration, the tough job market. A Greek colleague told me that many people from the middle class, like him, became homeless following the brutal economic crisis there. I think that people often like to think it’s related only to the homeless person’s character, without considering that we, as a society, are to a certain degree responsible for the fact that people are sleeping on our streets. Of course, people make choices in life, of course, there are many who end up on the street because of bad choices they made, but not to look at the structural problems is wrong.”