Kristine L Ming

The programs aimed at lifting up Jerusalem’s at-risk youths

Jerusalem is an attractive place for at-risk youths in Israel and an attractive place for services dedicated toward helping this part of the population.

Some 30,000 teens falling on the spectrum of at-risk behavior are based in Jerusalem.

The spectrum runs the gamut of teens who live at home and go to school with problematic behaviors to those who are addicted to drugs to the rare instances of homelessness.

The most recent research found last winter that there are 168 homeless youth in Jerusalem.

There are 298 programs based in Jerusalem that are designed to help the at-risk sector of the population, but still, many of these youths end up slipping through the cracks.

Most of the youths hold a criminal record, have some sort of experience substance abuse and come from haredi households or newly religious homes — and tend to migrate from the periphery or settlements towards Jerusalem.

Those coming from religious homes tend to gravitate towards Jerusalem as a way of finding themselves spiritually, whereas the majority of youths who define themselves as homosexual or transsexual largely end up in Tel Aviv.

In an attempt to create a more efficient path towards reaching this group of kids, the Jerusalem Innovation Team, or I-team for short, teamed up with the Jerusalem Municipality in 2015.

For the past two years, I-team underwent two years of extensive fieldwork and research to get a handle on this problem in Jerusalem.

I-team is the invention of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, who also funds this operation that reaches 25 cities worldwide.

Lior Yellin Frajnd, is the product manager for I-team and works with youth at risk, as well as works as a facilitator between city services for youth at risk and their NGO counterparts.

Over the past two years, she has been in charge of the mapping, counting and scaling of at-risk youths, as well as producing qualitative and quantitative analyses of the types of at-risk behavior.

Her research yielded seven prototypes of at risk youth. These prototypes are a key to providing the right kind of care to these youth, he said.

“Once you know how to work with a certain ‘type’ then you can figure out how to help the individual,” Said Yellin Frajnd .

Yellin Frajnd then explained her research on the institutions and programs themselves: “Most places deal with addicts or mental health issues — or both — and most places can’t handle both addiction and mental health issues at the same time”

According to spokesperson from I-team Jerusalem, Dena Schere, “Our goal is to improve the lives of the residents (the word she used for youth at-risk youths).”

Adding: “We are not an outside consulting team,  we don’t tell the municipality what to do, our model is to research and to solve them in the municipality and give them the tools to implement them.”

Last Monday, a conference that culminated this two year long collaboration was held in Jerusalem entitled  “Working With What Exists” looked to sum up two years of intensive work by the municipality and the Jerusalem I-Team, together with NGO’s that work in the fields of researching, mapping, initiating programs and creating new frameworks for cooperation.

The day-long conference was attended by the members of Jerusalem’s homeless youth strategy and field teams, social workers, representatives from dozens of NGOs connected with this issue, as well as members of the public sector on the national and municipal level.

“The Jerusalem Municipality is responsible for leading and implementing an in-depth process to improve the lives of youth-at-risk in the city and we see local NGOs as central partners in the process,” said Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. “I have no doubt that the process we initiated and the teams that we have established will have a notable impact on the treatment of youth-at-risk. I am proud to say that the work being done in Jerusalem with youth-at-risk is saving lives.”

Young people who were previously homeless were also in attendance and participated in workshops that produced ideas for next steps in helping Jerusalem’s homeless youth.

Dena Schere explains that one of these steps was how to actually implement the results of the two years of research: “we made two advances, vertically and horizontally: vertically, we cleared up a significant amount of bureaucratic traffic in order to give more power to the field workers, the people actually working with the kids and horizontally allows for more effective communication and sharing of ideas between all of these groups.

Despite the amount of research and development over the course of this two year endeavor, there are currently no solutions in place, but the main goal is to get these kids the right help.

Yellin Frajnd  concludes: “Some we try to get them back home, some we try to bring them into new communities and some are just providing them with the right type of help, and that is the main goal, to get them help.”

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