The Guy Next To You In Shul May Well Be Homeless

Unable to pay the rent or to pay their mortgage, some Orthodox Jews I know in Pico-Robertson are homeless. They’re living out of their cars. They have access to somebody’s bathroom where they shower and relieve themselves and charge their cell phones and even cook their food.

For internet access, they hang out beside LA Public Library branches and get the free wifi. For entertainment, they might watch Netflix on their laptops. For $8 a month, they get all the movies and TV shows they can watch. On Shabbat, if they are socially connected, they get invited to homes.

They put their stuff in storage for something like $40 a month. They work where they can, typically part-time. They live and sleep out of their cars.

They don’t live on the streets and they don’t beg. They don’t bother anyone. They’re embarrassed by their position.

The Israel Homeless charity emails: According to the government Central Bureau of Statistics (July 2011), just over 20% of working families in Israel are either legally homeless or without financial ability to continue meeting obligations of their lease.

More than 45% of working divorced fathers are either homeless or without financial ability to continue meeting obligations of their lease.

The lack of statistics in Jewish America keep these sorts of societal problems well hidden beneath the stories of success, but once again the statistics of one pool of seven million Jews cannot be significantly different than those of another pool of seven million Jews. Even if the superior American social safety net reduces the numbers in half, that is a significant population in desperate need yet invisible. American Jewry in particular has little patience for significant population pools that tarnish the self image of upward mobility. Individual cases may receive pity and tzedaka, but acknowledgment of community wide statistics such as these are simply a third rail issue. No Federation to our knowledge has implemented any formal program addressing the sources of these conditions.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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