Hungary's homeless fear they are Viktor OrbÃ¡n's next target
Hungary's homeless fear they are Viktor OrbÃ¡n's next target Global development Hungary's homeless fear they are Viktor OrbÃ¡n's next target
A ban on street sleeping from the rightwing government comes into force next week
Many countries have struggled to deal with the issue of homelessness but Hungary may be the first to put a constitutional ban on living on the streets. From next week, b eing homeless in Hungary will violate the constitution.
Activists fear the move could be the start of a political campaign against homeless people by the rightwing government of Viktor OrbÃ¡n, which has previously focused heavily on the apparent threat posed to Hungary from refugees and migrants.
âThe government has realised they canât play the migrant card endlessly because there are obviously no migrants in the country. Migration issues can still be useful for national campaigns but for local issues they need a new scapegoat,â said GÃ¡bor IvÃ¡nyi, a Methodist priest who runs homeless shelters in Budapestâs eighth district.
Under the new rules, people âcaughtâ being homeless who refuse to go to shelters when prompted by police will face enrolment in a compulsory work programme or jail. They may also have their belongings confiscated.
The homeless are a visible part of Budapestâs cityscape, sleeping in parks and underpasses. IvÃ¡nyi said the number of beds at shelters in the city was inadequate. One of his shelters has dozens of simple metal bed-frames crammed into each room. In winter, when the 130-bed shelter houses up to 300 people on some nights, yoga mats are spread on the floor.
Many homeless people say the cityâs homeless shelters are so poor that they prefer to stay on the street.
âTheyâre full of lice and once you get lice itâs very hard to get rid of them,â said Erik Jeczkel , a 47-year-old who has been homeless for 20 years. He lives on the street, scavenging for food in bins. âThe district police have beaten me up a few times. They put on gloves so they donât leave any bruises. They try to move you on to the next district, so itâs not their problem any more.â
The Hungarian governmentâs legal crusade against homelessness has been going on almost since Viktor OrbÃ¡n became prime minister in 2010. Then, the interior ministry made it easier for the city authorities to remove homeless people from the streets, but the constitutional court ruled the measure unconstitutional.
In response, the government used a trick it has used on multiple occasions when its legal initiatives have been thwarted: it simply changed the constitution. An amendment made it illegal to sleep rough in the vicinity of cultural and other important sites, effectively making homelessness illegal in large parts of Budapest.
âThere are many countries where there are debates over criminalising homelessness, but as far as I know Hungary is the only one to deal with it in the constitution,â said BÃ¡lint Misetics, a sociologist and housing rights activist.
The previous legislation gave police an authorisation to move people on, while the new amendment, which comes into force on 15 October, puts a universal prohibition on homelessness in direct phrasing.
OrbÃ¡nâs spokesman ZoltÃ¡n KovÃ¡cs said the Hungarian government spends more proportionately than many governments in western Europe on homelessnes s, and said it was absurd to call the new law heartless. He provided statistics showing that the governmentâs budget for care services for the homeless was 9.1bn forints (Â£25m) in 2018, which includes funding for shelters run by charities.
âThereâs no such human right that you can live on the street, because the street is for everyone. So you need at least certain rules,â he said.
However, the language around homelessness in much of the debate is distinctly lacking in compassion. âThey behave and act in a w ay that is disturbing for other people and is polluting the streets. They make normal use of public areas impossible and generate fear and disgust in normal people,â said the mayor of Budapestâs 10th district, RÃ³bert KovÃ¡cs, in a request for government intervention to tackle his areaâs homeless problem.
IvÃ¡nyi, who baptised two of OrbÃ¡nâs children but has long since fallen out bitterly with the prime minister, accused the government of taking a wrong-headed approach to the problem: âIn most cases homelessness is not a choice. Itâs as much of a nonsense as criminalising being ill.â
Many homeless people are struggling with mental health issues and addiction, but there are many who have fallen behind on mortgage repayments and found themselves falling through a flimsy social safety net.
A long-term unemployed homeless person receives 22,800 forints (Â£63) in benefits per month, while those on a government sponsored work programme receive 54,000 fo rints, with which it is hard to rent even a room in Budapest.
Ilona Faras, 55, said she had been homeless since the 1990s, sometimes living in shelters and sometimes on the street. âI have had a number of jobs cleaning shopping centres or cafes but when I have money Iâve given it to my children. I canât afford to rent anything,â she said.
Misetics said it was pointless to talk about homelessness as purely a law-enforcement issue: âIn Hungary there has been a lot of discussion about criminalisation but I am yet to hear a government official talk about any other aspect. You cannot solve homelessness when there is no social safety net and it is almost impossible for someone who become homeless to get out of it. You need social workers, not policemen.âTopics
- Global development
- Viktor OrbÃ¡n
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