In May of 2015, I was accepted into the Sackler Faculty of Medicine located in Tel Aviv, Israel. It had been a dream of mine since I was diagnosed with diabetes, late 2004. Through the struggles I faced managing my condition, I gained key insight into what it meant to live with a medical condition and I soon realized how invaluable this information could be to patients fighting every day with their own battles, both biological and psychological. This became a large factor in my decision to enter the field of medicine. I felt beyond lucky to do so in a part of the world that had been and was still developing technologies and innovations that the entire globe was adapting into daily life. But yet, I was surprised to find something there that would shape my view and goals for the rest of my life. After spending only a short time living in the city, I found myself witness to something I had not been exposed to as a suburban boy of Orange county, California: Homelessness.
We Can Make A Difference
Every day as I traveled to class, I observed the plight of homeless individuals across the city. These destitute individuals knelt or lay on the ground begging for food or any kind of help– but remained ignored as most passersby habitually avoided meeting their eyes. I saw firsthand how these individuals were treated as avoidable things, stripped of their humanity, neglected and without access to some of the basic necessities of life. A dire need of assistance exists not only for medical care, but also for professional psychological help. Such a sustained inhuman system of daily response erodes the little dignity and esteem to which they cling. I found myself feeling broken and bereft of hope and understanding of how any human with a heart could walk by and do nothing. From the perspective of an aspiring physician I could not do the same. In response, myself and a fellow classmate founded “Project Homeless Tel-Aviv”. The organization is founded upon the belief that the presence of the homeless in this day and age is an inadmissible result of a lack of adequate empathy of human beings for one another. Although now a small cadre of only 15 students, we believe we can make a difference in the lives of the few individuals we interact with in our monthly outings.
Every month, we meet early in the morning to make food together with which later that day we bring to downtown Tel-Aviv, an area where a large portion of the homeless population that we target, live.
We have three basic ideals: to simply brighten the days of the individuals we meet on a human-to-human, empathetic and understanding level. We aim to give healthy food and warm conversation to those we find living on the streets. Many of these individuals are more than ecstatic to talk to us and deeply appreciate the way in which we treat them. We give them fresh-baked pita, with tahini and fresh-chopped vegetables along with a bottle of water. What has truly been gratifying to us is the mere $10 it costs per outing to feed about 20 individuals.
Our second aim is to expose as many of our peers to the seemingly forgotten issue of homeless. We firmly believe this experience is not only helpful to the homeless but also enlightening for the students as aspiring doctors. Physicians (particularly of primary care) ought to heighten the role they play in referrals to psychiatric/psychological clinics as well as in providing charitable treatment for poverty-stricken populations. We hope to work with medical school administrators in order to institute what we do into the medical school curriculum in order to educate young doctors about this global epidemic.
Our final aim has been to survey the Tel Aviv homeless population. We hope that our survey and research data may shed light on how this population became homeless, and why they remain homeless despite the presence of both government and private shelters, social workers and a socialized healthcare system present in Israel. Perhaps our research can help government officials find more efficient and useful ways to tackle the city’s homeless crisis. Our program has already ran its first successful year and we plan to continue doing so in the years to come.
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