Abigail Klein Leichman
April 10, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

Whether or not he wins a $50,000 jackpot toward his project, Dovid Levine is determined to put a roof over the heads of destitute Jerusalemites.

Dovid Levine

Photo by Faith Baginsky, Bar-Ilan University
Dovid Levine’s idea is a Dell Social Innovation competition semifinalist.

Most of us walk right past homeless people on city streets, perhaps throwing a coin in their direction. Dovid Levine, a 20-year-old Israeli college student from New Jersey, did much more than that. Levine has drawn up plans for Jerusalem’s first homeless shelter.

Matzav (“situation” and also an acronym for Merkaz l’Tzrachim Basisim, or Center for Basic Needs) was among the top 10 vote-getters in the initial round of the Dell Social Innovation Competition, an international search in collaboration with the University of Texas-Austin for innovative student ideas to solve a social or environmental problem.

At stake is a $50,000 jackpot for the winning team. Matzav’s popularity earned it automatic placement among 100 semifinalists announced March 1.

“Our next step is to recruit the necessary support to help us create the required 30-page venture plan and promotional video for the competition, as well as meet with people and organizations to receive letters of approval,” Levine tells ISRAEL21c.

“As much as we hope to win, we are also using this as a chance to get our message out there and recruit supporters and volunteers.”

No homeless shelter in Jerusalem

After arriving in Israel from Highland Park, New Jersey, in 2005 to attend high school at the Naale Elite Academy, Levine began noticing homeless people on the streets of Jerusalem.

“I wanted to understand the situation and what was already being done,” he relates. Over time, he learned that while many different organizations address poverty and hunger in the capital city, no homeless shelter exists.

“That made me realize that someone has to do this. A couple of friends and I bounced ideas off each other last spring and came up with a multistage plan to fill gaps in current solutions. From there, we’ll work to aggregate those solutions and eventually to create an active job placement program. The idea is not just to alleviate symptoms of homelessness but to give people the tools to overcome in the long run.”

Now a second-year management and logistics student at Bar-Ilan University, Levine has also made contact with the municipal government through a connection with the Jewish Agency, and hopes to solicit its assistance in implementing the Matzav master plan.

“First I have to finish writing a grant proposal for funding, and our next task is finding a location for the shelter,” says Levine, who happened upon a posting about the Dell competition in June when he was perusing a Jerusalem list-serve in search of a used desk.

Comprehensive business plan

The extraordinarily organized young man has drawn up a business plan citing three goals: providing immediate relief in the form of food, shelter, clothing, utilities and counseling; developing immediate employment opportunities; and offering skills training and financial advice leading to self-sufficiency.

“We have actively started reaching out to local service organizations and the Jerusalem municipality, so as to secure funding and support in order to begin actualizing our plan regardless of our placement in the final round of the Dell Social Innovation Competition,” says Levine, who has recruited a committee of student volunteers to help in the effort.

While he has never taken on a project of this magnitude before, Levine formerly volunteered as a mentor in an Israeli school for at-risk children; with the Lev Echad Emergency Response organization during the 2006 Lebanon war; in a summer camp for Jewish kids in Ukraine; and in the Gaza border town of Sderot. He’s also helped out at One Family Fund, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Jerusalem soup kitchens.

The Dell contest’s five finalists are to be announced on April 15. Twenty promising semi-finalists who do not qualify for the finals will be invited to participate in a year-round fellowship program in partnership with Brown University.

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