Shifting Gears at the Open Space

On March 11, Israel began limiting freedom of movement and soon thereafter suspended nearly all youth-outreach programs under contract with the Ministry of Welfare, forcing a massive shift in daily operations of our Open Space drop-in center. For the next two months, we were obligated to limit outreach to 42 individuals identified by the Ministry as having no other daily framework, including the homeless and those required to leave their lodgings each morning. Indeed, we were the only organization in Jerusalem authorized to provide face-to-face drop-in assistance to this population during the crisis.

As the Open Space Director noted,

“While other organizations had to shutter in-person operations, we successfully made the case to local authorities that there is a segment of young people in Jerusalem who are deeply connected to the streets and urgently require human contact and physical safety. As we explained, their needs could simply not be met through virtual platforms. In normal times these people come to us for respite, a shower, a meal, a friendly ear, before returning to the streets. However, with the streets legally off limits and absolutely nowhere else to turn, a tremendous crisis was emerging. How would this hidden population survive? Owing to excellent long-term relations with the welfare authorities and their appreciation of the issues at stake, we received ‘essential service-provider status’ which allowed us to offer emergency lifeline support to this segment for the length of the shutdown.”

Throughout this period, we functioned with minimal staff based on a reduced schedule (7 hours per day instead of our usual 12), providing triage assistance to those most at risk of returning to destructive behavior. We scheduled visits in shifts in adherence with social distancing requirements and provided virtual counseling for other youth sheltering-in-place in their homes and hostels. All outreach was coordinated with the Ministry of Welfare and municipal-run youth shelters.

While Israel is tentatively loosening restrictions on public gatherings, we yearn for the day when Open Space can again truly operate as a “drop-in” program without fear for the safety of the young people who rely on us for a positive daily framework, including food, shelter, enrichment, and emotional support. In the meantime, we are thrilled to see both our youth and our staff return, hear music being made in the studio, and enjoy the art projects again underway.

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