Project Spotlight: ELEM Homeless Shelters for Youth At-Risk
The Fellowship | January 30, 2018
The Fellowship‘s Ami Farkas recently made a project visit to ELEM, the Fellowship-supported center for homeless youth with locations in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The shelters provide aid to homeless young women and men and saves them from destitution, hunger, and neglect.
I recently traveled to the south side of Tel Aviv to visit a Fellowship funded project called ELEM. Unlike the fast paced financial hubs of central and northern Tel Aviv, the south side is very poor – the buildings are dilapidated, and the streets are filled with people who desperately need a helping hand, especially the young adults.
Statistically, a majority of these young adults who are living on the streets will remain homeless for the rest of their lives. Most, if not all, have suffered severe abuse at the hands of others. Many of the homeless are emotionally scarred, some are mentally ill, and in all cases, they suffer the harsh consequences of living on the streets and have no hope for change.
Thankfully, ELEM Fellowship-funded shelters are a place where young homeless people, ages 18-26, can take a hot shower, do some laundry, or take clothing which was donated to the shelter. There is a stocked kitchen with hot meals, coffee, and snacks, a computer in the living room area, and other comforts of a real home. But most importantly, the shelters offer a therapeutic environment. ELEM has social workers and other mental-health professionals who aim to help these youths in any possible way – their ultimate goal is to get these young people off the streets for good.
While visiting one of our shelters in Tel Aviv’s south side, I met a very intelligent and highly motivated young woman named Chaya. Chaya is 21 years old, and, until recently, her life was filled with pain. Her childhood was destroyed by abuse, yet, thanks to ELEM, her future is bright.
From the time Chaya was a little girl, she had to learn how to cope with some of life’s darkest experiences. Her parent divorced when she was young, and the men her mother chose to date, and eventually marry, sexually abused and raped Chaya when she was still a little girl.
Attempting to hold back tears, Chaya explained how her mother spent a great deal of time caring for her sister who had cancer, while she fell through the cracks without anyone noticing. Her mother, her biological father, and her extended family did not understand the pain she was carrying because they did not know of the abuse she had suffered.
As the years passed and Chaya grew older, it was clear that she could no longer live at home. “I had pretty much lost contact with my father, and the situation at my mother’s house was unbearable,” Chaya recalled.
Every time Chaya was home, she would fight with her stepdad, as well as her mother. All too often, the police would have to get involved.
Chaya had nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. She was young, alone, and was carrying the burden of all the trauma she had suffered throughout her childhood. For months she would crash in random people’s apartments. She began to learn the streets, as well as the people living on the streets. They became her life, her family, and the only way she knew how to survive.
Living on the streets was horrible. Chaya was hungry, tired, and desperate. She went from city to city looking for work, but no one wanted to hire a homeless girl who didn’t have clean clothes to put on for an interview. Eventually, she found work as a cashier in a grocery store run by criminals, but that ended with her boss assaulting her and leaving her with severe head injuries.
Experiencing God’s Grace
Finally, Chaya made it to the Fellowship-funded ELEM shelter. It was in that shelter that Chaya began to turn her life around for the better. First and most importantly, Chaya had a roof over her head. She received nutritious food every day, and she had a place to shower and do laundry.
Chaya took advantage of the social services offered at the Fellowship-funded shelter, and she began to seriously discuss what she wants to do with her life. Fortunately, Chaya is very intelligent and capable, and with the guidance and care she was getting at the shelter, her life started to turn around.
Today, Chaya no longer lives in the shelter. She is finishing up her high school credits and is living in a government-subsidized dormitory for students from impoverished backgrounds. Her goal is to study law, with the hope of using her degree, skills, and life experiences to make positive changes in Israeli society.
When I looked at Chaya and heard her story, from her pain and suffering, to the triumph and success she now has, I couldn’t help but think how someone like her could have been lost to the world, if not for these shelters which The Fellowship is providing for the young and homeless.
I kept thinking about how many other young men and women are out there on the streets, who could be changing their lives and making a positive difference in Israeli society if only someone would show them compassion and give them a chance.