Homelessness to become unconstitutional in Hungary

It’s certainly not the first time that Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party, moves to criminalize homelessness. But this time the Orbán government is preparing to go further than ever before, by amending the country’s Fundamental Law, to make homelessness unconstitutional. The amendment would make it illegal for anyone to “habitually” reside in public spaces.

Fidesz MP and Viktor Orbán’s former lawyer István Bajkai remarked that there is no reason for anyone in Hungary to be homeless, as all supports are in place to ensure that everyone has shelter. He referred to the “fact” that Hungary has adequate day programs and homeless shelters. The justification for banning homelessness through the Fundamental Law is that Budapest is the nation’s cultural, economic and political centre, and seeing homeless people and the related unpleasantries in the streets is, as he remarked, “an inconvenience.”

A homeless man on Central Budapest’s Andrássy út. Photo: Flickr / emzepe

Not only is Mr. Bajkai’s plan and commentary devoid of compassion, but it is also ill-informed. For the past 7 years, I have worked for an organization in Ottawa, Canada, which provides both day programming, meals and an evening soup kitchen to the homeless, the marginalized and the working poor. In addition to our program, there are four other shelters or day programs within a five block radius of our organization. When one looks at this superficially, one might be inclined to assume that homelessness in Ottawa is not a problem, as there is an abundance of resources at everyone’s disposal.

Yet this is not the case. For a wide number of reasons, people who are homeless choose not to stay at the available shelters or may not use the programs available to them. Mental illness can result in either someone staying away from such organizations, or can led to someone being barred from these services, due to their behaviour. Some people eschew shelters, due to the perception (or the reality) that these places are unsafe or that someone already struggling with addiction will be exposed to others engaged in overt substance abuse. In Ottawa, all five shelters and day programs in the central Sandy Hill and Lowertown neighbourhoods are affiliated with Christian churches. For some, a history of trauma and abuse (such as with the Indigenous populations and the legacy of church-run residential schools) may keep people who need these services from seeking them out. And finally, it is common practice for shelters to require clients to vacate the dorms during the day and only return in the late afternoon, which means that homeless people are, indeed, on the street — unless they decide to spend the day at a day program, some of which are only for women and children.

The plan announced by Fidesz is myopic and cruel. It’s also connected to a municipal election campaign in the Budapest district of Józsefváros, where the opposition has united behind Péter Győri, a man who has spent the past three decades working on homelessness-related issued and establishing a charity to this end. Mr. Győri is a serious contender in the Józsefváros mayoral race and has a reasonable chance of reclaiming the district from Fidesz.

Criminalizing homeless is not the answer–addressing the conditions that cause homelessness or that result in people not seeking the services and care that they need is.

11 Comments

  1. Now, just a minute.

    Being “homeless”, and ,or “Habitually residing in public places” do have a very separate, but defined meaning. The article clear that there are shelters available for the homeless.To solve the problems of danger or harm to residents, belong to lawenforcement.

    There are humanitarian organization even in Hungary, but as stated that is used for political steppingstones. The country is poor,the government has far too much interferrance in the economy, those in the bottom suffer the most.

    So the root of the problem is actually not political, but social and economic. Politicians only capitalize on it for their own advancement. As the article stated Gyori’s political goal.

  2. chuck kovacs says:

    In discourse, there should be no tolerance for insults. Bendeguz79 has made cogent valid points. Some years back, New York City had massive influx of street beggars, wonderers who would stand at red light begging for money, sleeping on the street, or on a bench in a park. Law enforcement finally put their foot down and mandated to move to a shelter. Democracy does not mean you poop where you want. Citizen’s have an obligation to conform to social standards consistent with laws and regulations. It’s not a free for all!!

  3. Just what the hell homelessness could have to do anything with a Constitution, in case they had one? Or vise-versa, any Constitution might have any connection to homelessness? To solve the cause of homelesness is an economic issue, not political. Be it constitutional or “un-constitutional” will solve nothing. Beside, they have to go and ammend their Alaptorveny to achieve even what means absolutely nothing.

  4. Chuck Kovacs is totally correct with his remark !
    Personal freedom means also personal responsibilities.
    Otherwise civilization will fall apart and becomes anarchy and chaos.
    Society can not be accepted to surrender to bums, hobos, drug-dealers and drug-adicts, alcoholics,street-peoples, etc.
    Although some would sure enjoy that.
    Perhaps in your hometown. Hm?

  5. StrandedinSopron says:

    “The plan announced by Fidesz is myopic and cruel. It’s also connected to a municipal election campaign in the Budapest district of Józsefváros,….”

    If I am not mistaken, the previous Fidesz mayor of District 8 introduced a colour-bar reminiscent of Alabama in the 1950s or Apartheid South Africa when he banned refugee children from playing in the parks and went as far to even forbid “foreigners” from using the public toilets?

    So, there is no depth to which Fidesz at local or national level will not plunge to stir up hatred against those who do not conform to their self-defined “norms” of the “Hungarian Nation”.

    However, we have been here before…was it 5 years ago that Orban and his puppet Tarlos promised that they would soon be starting to lock up homeless in prison? Never happened because the size of the issue and the general all-round incompetence and apathy of Fidesz’s enforcers.

    So, I suspect it will be used to rouse up enough bigotry amongst the electorate prior to the poll and then will be quietly forgotten about in case the Fidesz voter releases that unlike the non-existent “migrant threat”, the homeless were, are and will always will be visible all over the city no matter how many constitutional amendments Orban attempts to pass.

  6. Chuck Kovacs;

    That was Rudy Guliani, that got rid off the street bums and the mafia as well in NYC.

  7. Don Kichote says:

    Being human is difficult in Hungary. To suppress others is popular sport. The political elite does not differ in this from the people, with a few exceptions.

  8. Don;
    Nothing is easy anywhere in this world.
    But we all have a duty to ourself, family and society.

    By nature all want to do what is possible and one is capable.
    Those who are limited in way, have all assistance avielable.
    The street people refuse to go to shelters, change their life.
    Now who’s fault is that?
    Can not force them !

    • Don Kichote says:

      Bende, people like you want the homeless to change. Maybe twice as smart as you are. Too much narrow-mindedness and arrogance bende.

  9. And all the (mostly) useless soccer stadiums stand. What renovations to the health care, to helping the homeless that money could have done.

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