It has been almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic began to take its devastating toll on the lives of many Israelis - losing loved ones, livelihoods and in some cases their very homes.
One such couple is Vera Salinger, a wheelchair-bound Crohn’s Disease sufferer, and her partner Uri Carmel. The two had just started building their life together, finding a new home near the sea on Kibbutz Ga'ash where Vera could recover from a series of operations. And then the pandemic hit.
"We wanted her to recover from two difficult surgeries at home with a sea view. I planned to propose to her there,” says Uri, who lost his job as a fitness trainer when the crisis started.
Vera was in hospital when the pandemic broke out, being treated for her Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that has no cure or effective treatment.
"The rent checks started bouncing," says Uri. "I couldn't even find casual work because I was with Vera at the hospital all the time."
And then Vera and her mother, their guarantor who is also disabled, had their bank accounts frozen due to the returned rent checks.
Because of Vera’s worsening condition, the couple was unable to leave their apartment to rent a cheaper one.
“I’m doing very badly,” says Vera. “I weigh 30kg due to my reliance on an intravenous feed. I am also in a wheelchair due to nerve damage. I feel like dying. I'm afraid I will find myself out on the street."
The couple are indeed facing legal eviction from their apartment and in recent months have approached any official body in the country that they thought might be able to help.
But their repeated appeals to the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, the Housing Ministry, the Maccabi Health Fund that treats Vera, and even the Prime Minister's Office, all went unanswered.
"The Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services Ministry claims that in order to receive housing assistance, a person must live on the street for a certain period of time. But Vera will die if she has to live on the street," Uri says.
"The Housing Ministry says only married couples can get help with public housing. I even called the police to ask what crime Vera should commit just so she can get food and shelter."
Reut Sha'ar, the director of public inquiries at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says the couple's experiences are being played out repeatedly across the country.
“Vera's story is the story of hundreds of thousands of citizens who lived in poverty before the coronavirus struck and are now being thrown onto the street,” she says.
“On Vera's behalf, we applied to the Housing Ministry for recognition that she is entitled to increased rental assistance, but until a permanent solution is found, the welfare authorities must mobilize to protect her and other people in her situation from being evicted into the streets.”
The Housing Ministry said in response that Vera's case was being held up by paperwork.
"The ministry has been working with Vera, who has been receiving rental assistance since 2006. She applied for public housing but did not attach the documents proving her medical condition. It was made clear to her that she could file an appeal with the relevant documents."
The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services said that it has been assisting Vera.
"The claimant is being handled by the Department of Social Services. The department has presented her with possible solutions that include extensive assistance, including aid with substantial living expenses and help in exercising her rights with other authorities."
Maccabi said in response that its staff "will continue to assist the patient as much as possible in everything related to her medical care. The issue of housing is not the responsibility of the healthcare system."