The plight of the homeless in Hungary

Perhaps I haven’t spent enough time on the plight of the homeless in Hungary. The United Nations estimates the number of homeless people in Hungary at 30-35,000, of whom about 8,000 are in Budapest. Some of them live in homeless shelters; others, afraid of being robbed, refuse to go there. In any case, there are only about 5,500 places, which is not enough. Some of those counted as homeless managed to build primitive huts in the mountains in Buda.

It was clear from the start that this government was not going to try to find a humane solution to a growing problem. Instead, its goal was to hide the homeless from sight.  Surely, they are not good for tourism. So, let’s expel them by force of law from the most frequented places.

István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, was one of the first who decided “to solve” this problem. The Fidesz majority on the City Council passed a local ordinance that banned the homeless from public places. Some people in the central government liked this idea so much that they proposed a law that extended the ban to the whole country. Offenders could have been jailed or fined up to $650. Fining people who can barely keep body and soul together is naturally a ludicrous idea. Punishing somebody with a jail sentence because he has no shelter over his head is inhumane.

Last November the Constitutional Court found this law unconstitutional. (Today such a verdict would be unimaginable. By now the overwhelming majority of the judges were nominated by the government and voted in by Parliament with a two-thirds Fidesz majority.) That something is found unconstitutional never bothered the Orbán government, which considers itself the paragon of democratic virtue. Since due to pressure from the European Union the Hungarian government had to change some sections of the new constitution anyway, they smuggled in an entirely new provision that allowed municipalities to declare living in public places illegal “in order to protect public order, public security, public health and cultural values.”  Both the European Parliament and the United Nations condemned the law.

Kristina Jovanovski wrote a long article about the plight of the homeless in Hungary for Al Jazeera and interviewed Magdalena Sepulveda, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, who told her that Hungary wasn’t the only country that bans behavior linked to homelessness, but “what makes Hungary stand out … is that such a law has been put into the country’s constitution.”

So, let’s see what the new law says. The law decrees it a misdemeanor if a homeless person frequents places designated as “world heritage” sites. In Budapest this is quite an extensive area For example, the whole Andrássy út, the region around the Gellért Hotel in Buda, the castle area, the area around the Chain Bridge, the Gellért Mountain, the Royal Castle, Szabadság tér, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Parliament building, and the buildings on the Pest side of the Danube all the way to the Petőfi Bridge.

It is unlikely that the law will apply only to “world heritage sites” for long. In Budapest the mayor of Budapest has the right to designate any area taboo that he feels needs such protection. Moreover, the district mayors can request additional sites, which István Tarlós must grant. Those homeless people who are caught in the forbidden parts of the city can be forced to perform public work. If the person refuses, he will be fined 300,000 forints or $1,300. If the authorities catch him twice within half a year, the person will be automatically jailed. Moreover, as the result of a last-minute amendment, the law became even more punitive. Building a hut in some far-away wooded area situated either on public or on private land without permission is also considered to be a misdemeanor.

Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP), a member of the parliamentary committee on human rights, released a communiqué in which she calls attention to some provisions of the law that at first glance might not be obvious to everyone. In the areas designated as “world heritage” sites, a homeless person doesn’t have to do anything in the least criminal. It would be enough if someone who looked like a homeless person walked along peacefully, for example, on Andrássy út.  These sites are now declared to be “homeless-free zones.”

In the future if this fellow is cut his hut will be destroyed and he thrown to jail

In the future, if this fellow is caught his hut will be destroyed and he will be thrown in jail

Kristina Jovanovski got in touch with a government official who explained that the law was adopted “to enable local governments to handle the issue of homelessness, and so to assure order in public spaces and increased public safety.” Furthermore, the government spokesman admitted that permitting the homeless in public spaces “poses problems from a cultural point of view when it comes to the … accessibility of certain public areas, including areas frequented by a large number of people and also in terms of the protection of historical buildings.”

So, this is where we stand now. A dictate on how to handle the homeless is part of the Hungarian constitution. One would think that a democratic country’s constitution would be designed to defend the rights of its citizens and not contain punitive measures against certain segments of the population. But, of course, Hungary is straying farther and farther from democratic principles.

Soon enough the constitution will be a motley assortment of bits and pieces of legislation. Control of utility prices will also be included in the sacred Basic Law of Viktor Orbán. This is the constitution that Viktor Szigetvári and Gordon Bajnai of Együtt 2014-PM want to “improve.” No, this constitution must be thrown into the garbage as soon as this government is gone.

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Julie
Guest

On my first visit to Hungary I was struck by the numbers of homeless people living in the Budapest subway stations. (And I’ve lived in New York and Washington, DC so I’m quite familiar with homelessness in general.) For me the self-evident response would be compassion: why would you live in a subway station, to be stared at by hundreds of people every day without any privacy or access to basic amenities, unless you were utterly desperate?

Substance abuse and untreated mental illness are major drivers of homelessness. If the government really wants to do something to keep people from sleeping on the streets, that’s where they should focus their energies.

Herr
Guest

Sorry, OT but about the EU. We were so surprised that it surrendered before Orbán.

“EU deal could be victory for Google” says currently the title on the front page of New York Times.

My question is:

when was NOT any deal with the EU a victory for the other side: be it Google, the US (taking travelers’ or banking data) or Hungary or …

The EU IS a pushover and Hungary and Orbán will use this fact out to the limit (the left will not, but they are conformist we know that much and they will not get to power anytime soon).

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/business/international/google-europe-antitrust-settlement-deal.html?hp&_r=0

Sandor
Guest

Latest, i.e. two days old information on the number of homeless in Budapest, based on an interview with PM parlamentarian Timea Szabo. The number of homeless in Budapest is 17,500. The available shelter place is 10,500.

Guest

@Julie: When I first visited Budapest there were homeless living in the underpasses—and I thought them lucky to have secured dry and sheltered spaces. They are now forbidden in such places. This year I noticed many more homeless–even couples–in Budapest. Many more people were collecting cigarette butts and searching through the many trash containers for whatever could be of use. The only begging I saw were the old kerchiefed women on Andrassy, who are always there.

Pete H.
Guest

OT – Who needs homeless shelters when you can build a ski resort in Budapest. Parliament voted to fund this project on Monday.

Plans “include repairing the old ski tracks and building three or four new ones , including a new chairlift, running tracks and playgrounds, summer bob tracks, an outdoor fitness park, a snow cannon, a hostel in addition to the seven existing hotels, a restaurant, a second chapel near the Anna Chapel, and, to cap it off, a three-storey parking garage with about 1,000 spaces.

As part of this reorganisation, the traffic regulations would be changed and public transport to the peaks improved. According to Magyar Narancs, the total construction cost will be around HUF 5 billion, out of which HUF 95 million will be invested this year and HUF 620 million in 2014. The construction work is expected to be completed in 2018.”

http://www.budapesttimes.hu/2013/09/30/the%C2%AD-latest-nature-battleground/

Normafa and the surrounding forests are the largest forest within the city limits. A major development project like this would significantly alter the landscape.

I am sure someone here can tell us which developers will get the contract.

Surkov
Guest
The post is correct. But. The events surrounding the Normafa ski resort (at 477 meter or 1,560 feet above sea level) and the homeless are the result of democracy. Homeless and the really poor don’t vote and for all practical reasons don’t care about the politics and as such they do not exist. (Well, the very poor Gypsies, as we saw in Baja, will sell their votes for USD 2 apiece.) Those living in districts II and XII of Budapest, however, usually turn out to vote at a rate of over 80%. Not surprisingly politicians care more about the views of the richest people than about nonexistent constituencies. Who do exist, however, are the lower-middle classes who deeply resent ‘dirty’ people and people receiving welfare in exchange for nothing, who only have rights but no obligations to behave properly (aka the homeless and the roma). But the whole homeless issue is a great game which the left swallowed again as it is a clear sucker for Fidesz’ strategy. The left always enters the discourse which is controlled by Fidesz, apparently on the left they don’t read enough Foucault. Fidesz’ strategy is very simple: to force the vehement reaction of the… Read more »
grantbg
Guest

I am utterly dismayed by the government’s position on homelessness. Of all the actions they have taken, this is the stand-out issue for me. How can any member of parliament justify it to THEMSELVES to make life MORE difficult for society’s most vulnerable. It’s positively horrible. It makes me feel ashamed to live in a country where the welfare of the poorest and weakest is subjugated to the vain pride of the majority. How despicable. How inhumane. Unkind. Heartless. Grotesque. Europe will not save them, nor will their own countrymen. They are lost. At least the religious charities like the Knights of Malta have programs to help them. But how wonderful would it be to see the government decide to deal with homelessness in a ground breaking way, to lead by example that we can all be proud of, instead of, for example building stadia (including the one in Felcsut – absurd) and grand projects like the mentioned winter sports project. Hungarians make me despair about their values. Pity the poor homeless people, their lives in ruins, and find a way to help them.

Guest

Surkov and grantbg said it much better than I could – thanks!

And as always the news already made it into the German media:
http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/ungarn-verbietet-obdachlosen-aufenthalt-auf-oeffentlichen-plaetzen-a-925567.html

Question:
Why is it that we get only bad news from Hungary in Germany ?
Answer:
Maybe there isn’t any good news …

Tibor Hargitai
Guest

Has there been not one proposition which would tackle the root causes of homelessness in Budapest?

Bowen
Guest

Homelessness has clearly grown recently. You might be able to clear homeless people out of UNESCO sites, but that doesn’t mean you can take them out of sight of tourists. Homeless are very visible around Deak Ter, for instance.

I’ve noticed a very large amount of police patrols recently. E.g. pairs of police officers walking up and down, even on side streets early on Sunday mornings! I presume this is related to the issue, and indicates that UNESCO sites are not the only places being tackled. I’ve sometimes seen groups of police officers ‘talking’ to homeless people in places like Rakoczi ut, taking their details.

Bowen
Guest

Interestingly, it seems that there are more homeless in Budapest than in London.
(est. 6,500 in London)

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jun/20/homeless-rough-sleepers-rise-london

Guest

Yes, I remember vividly the people sleeping in front of the doors of some inner city shops in London – even past 9 o’clock in the morning, because shops often only open at 10 . I was very surprised by that the first time.

And of course in Manhattan and San Francisco the situation was similar – in German bigger cities however there seem to be enough places in the “Obdachlosenheime”.

Back to Hungary:

Our young ones told me that the situation became much worse (and the number of homeless people grew) a few years ago when a large mental institution in Hungary (Budapest or somewhere else ?) was closed – but I don’t remember the details of that. This also meant that a lot of staff were without jobs suddenly – and the chances for a job as a psychologist were reduced.

Does anyone here know more about this ?

The Orange Files
Guest

The Orbán régime has been cracking down on the homeless in the name of defending the majority against the minority ever since it came to power. As the Hungarian Spectrum points out, the situation is only going to become worse now that municipal councils have the constitutionally enshrined right to prohibit the habitation of public areas and punish violation of the ban as a Petty Offense. Fidesz officials are now claiming that there is enough capacity in shelters to handle all of Hungary’s homeless. I have found no data to corroborate this claim. As far as I can tell, there are enough beds in homeless shelters in Hungary to accommodate at most half of the country’s homeless. If this is the case, there will be many thousands of homeless people who will not be able to comply with potential bans on living in public areas.

JGrant
Guest
@The Orange Files – as it has been mentioned above, it is not only a case of whether there are enough places, although we know that there aren’t enough, but the fact that these hostels are horrible places, feel like prisons and your gear is in great danger of being stolen plus you yourself are not safe if you are old and sickly, because the younger and stronger ones might harm you as well as rob you. My favourite old tramp near my flat told me that he would rather die than go into one of those. Still, they have forced him into a hostel last winter and he was robbed and now the district has persecuted him so much (taking his cards which insulate his shack, demolishing the phone booth he was sheltering behind etc.) that he has gone downhill fast. I doubt if he will survive the next winter. And that is so sad, as until this whole thing started he was always cheerful, clean and with a book or magazine in his hand. I used to love chatting to him, but now he has a tin of beer in his hand, instead of a book, which we… Read more »
Guest

Thanks, JGrant!

I heard from our young ones (who both studied the “breadless” science of psychology btw …) that most of the patients of that facility were sent away – some were lucky to be accepted back at home somewhere, others just went to the streets …

oneill
Guest
Surkov, “And the left will duly perform by quickly condemning the persecution of the homeless in every possible way”. I agree with your basic premise; there is probably no country (never mind Orbanistan) in the world where votes are to be won by standing up for the disadvantaged and excluded of society. But, you know what, I am glad that the “left” and “liberals” have nonetheless performed their duties as human beings as opposed to appeasing the most base instincts of the electorate on this occasion. Evil is evil, whether it is back by the majority of the electorate or not and the regime’s action against some of most the defenceless in society most definitely falls into the “evil” category. If the only way to defeat Orban’s fascists at the ballot box is by voting for a party with similar policies to the regime, policies promising to punishing and excluding the homeless, the disabled, the unemployed the roma etc then, honestly I would rather not vote. Orban and his henchmen will face punishment for his crimes sooner or later, either in this world or the next. Him eventually rotting in prison or rotting in hell sound as good a ounishment… Read more »
topppp
Guest
oneill October 2, 2013 at 7:30 am | #16 Quote Surkov, “And the left will duly perform by quickly condemning the persecution of the homeless in every possible way”. I agree with your basic premise; there is probably no country (never mind Orbanistan) in the world where votes are to be won by standing up for the disadvantaged and excluded of society. But, you know what, I am glad that the “left” and “liberals” have nonetheless performed their duties as human beings as opposed to appeasing the most base instincts of the electorate on this occasion. Evil is evil, whether it is back by the majority of the electorate or not and the regime’s action against some of most the defenceless in society most definitely falls into the “evil” category. If the only way to defeat Orban’s fascists at the ballot box is by voting for a party with similar policies to the regime, policies promising to punishing and excluding the homeless, the disabled, the unemployed the roma etc then, honestly I would rather not vote. Orban and his henchmen will face punishment for his crimes sooner or later, either in this world or the next. Him eventually rotting in… Read more »
Surkov
Guest
Dear Oneill, yes, I am glad too that at least some people stand by the homeless, I am just reflecting how Fidesz thinks. Also note that there are no homeless in the countryside (as we understand the term) so it is not an issue rural voters care about (they don’t see them) — which are the biggest constituency/power base of Fidesz. For rural people it’s the usual debate between urban people… Orbán and his henchmen think 5 steps ahead of you and especially the Hungarian opposition, and will never face punishment. They own the prosecution even if Péter Polt would be gone, the second and third and fourth generations of Fidesznik prosecutors will make sure that no one is harmed. They either will not bring the case before the court or – in order to show that they are working – will bring such charges that the prosecutors know cannot stand before the court. They are professionals, believe me Oneill, you have no idea. As a second resort, Fidesz owns the courts (especially the criminal division), and as a last resort, they have the Constitutional Court for the next two decades. Orbán, Simicska, Papcsák, Rogán, Lázár will never face justice.… Read more »
topppp
Guest

oneill
October 2, 2013 at 7:30 am | #16 Quote

“Orban and his henchmen will face punishment for his crimes sooner or later, either in this world or the next.
Him eventually rotting in prison or rotting in hell sound as good a punishment to me as his ego suffering a defeat at the ballot box.”

A few supporters around Orban will be too slow to understand his decline. The deflated Orban will be thrown to the same places where Horthy, Rakosi, Kadar ended up.

There is no excuse today to give a vote to him. The scale of destruction is huge. People have to start to understand the numbers. In forints, and euros.

So continue to topple the symbolic Orbans until the real one will fall too.

GW
Guest

Here we see real proof of Fidesz’s failure to act in any way Christian, as they so often claim to be. And where is the Hungarian Catholic Church on this issue? Silent. Compare this to Pope Francis who has repeatedly reminded us that homelessness is a central concern, even inviting homeless people to eat at the Vatican: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Pope-Francis-invites-200-homeless-people-to-dine-at-Vatican—Vatican-Gendarmes-Band-performed-for-the-guests-214878771.html

Paul
Guest

“Question:

Why is it that we get only bad news from Hungary in Germany ?

Answer:

Maybe there isn’t any good news …”

Excellent, Wolfi – if this were Facebook, I would ‘like’ this.

oneill
Guest
“Orbán, Simicska, Papcsák, Rogán, Lázár will never face justice. Try to understand instead that justice in Hungary is by definition what these people say it is.” At this moment in time, you are right. But you can no better see into the future than I can. “Never” is a very long time. There are numerous examples through recent history where seemingly unstoppable regimes have fallen, regimes which had much stronger forces of militaryrepression than Orban and his mob. But fall they did and quite often for the most unexpected of reasons. So “never face justice” is a very strong claim and one that may have been used with, for example, Ceausescu n Romania less than 5 years before his own people despatched him in the most appropriate manner possible to meet his Maker. And that justice was not delivered through the courts or by a corrupt public prosecuter. Imagine the bewildered look on Ceausescu’s face the moment before he took his justice and imagine the exact same look on Orban’s when he faces the same (let’s hope for his sake, non-fatal) revenge by “his” people. Where I will agree with you is the impossibility of removing this regime by the… Read more »
andy 'world upside down'
Guest

I just thought a liiitle contrarianism might ‘do some good’ at this stage in the above dialogue, so lemme begin:

You really shouldnt be defending these disheveled peepl who never wash, spread vile germs, and and cokroaches wherever they go, and pi– and do ka– in the parks and worse, in the doorways.

They beg and soon as dey got deir 5 cents go for the Fin Vin Ordinario of which they imbibe huge quantities which they eventually vom– in the subway. Dey refuse to go to the quality homes society is providing graciously to them and they alarm the poor tourists… and spread not only the bad germs but a baaaad reputation for Budapest the spick and span Capital of the Great Hungary…

OK. I just had to spit out this standardized garbage. I didnt want to be outrageous. I just had to be.

Throw out the above comment. I didnt really write it. Its nonsense.

An
Guest

GW :
Here we see real proof of Fidesz’s failure to act in any way Christian, as they so often claim to be. And where is the Hungarian Catholic Church on this issue? Silent. Compare this to Pope Francis who has repeatedly reminded us that homelessness is a central concern, even inviting homeless people to eat at the Vatican: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Pope-Francis-invites-200-homeless-people-to-dine-at-Vatican—Vatican-Gendarmes-Band-performed-for-the-guests-214878771.html

The Pope is coming to Hungary soon as the Orban government wants to re-sign the Vatican treaty Horn signed in the 90s. Maybe some good Christian could bring it to the Pope’s attention how the homeless are treated in Hungary by the government. I wonder what he’d think of that.

Tibor Hargitai
Guest

andy ‘world upside down’ :
You really shouldnt be defending these disheveled peepl who never wash, spread vile germs, and and cokroaches wherever they go, and pi– and do ka– in the parks and worse, in the doorways.

Would you argue that the thousands of homeless in Budapest decided to live on the streets themselves? I doubt it. If any, it’d be a handful. And if we were in this highly unlikely hypothetical situation, then I would agree that their way of life unfortunately does not ‘fit’ our norms and would encourage them to seek refuge elsewhere.
Another argument against such a hypothesis is that a lot of people who are not homeless also seem to peek into trash cans in the hope of finding something valuable – and not because they enjoy doing so.
The sight of large amounts of homeless is not attractive. There is a need to tackle such issues by their roots — like preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Guest

A note on what has happened to the Lipótmezö hospital: it was closed on April 1, 2007. Since then it has remained vacant. My friend, who sees it daily taking her kids to a near-by ovoda, said “they are waiting for it to degrade, so it can be bought/sold cheaply”.

Paul
Guest
oneill : “Orbán, Simicska, Papcsák, Rogán, Lázár will never face justice. Try to understand instead that justice in Hungary is by definition what these people say it is.” At this moment in time, you are right. But you can no better see into the future than I can. “Never” is a very long time. There are numerous examples through recent history where seemingly unstoppable regimes have fallen, regimes which had much stronger forces of militaryrepression than Orban and his mob. But fall they did and quite often for the most unexpected of reasons. So “never face justice” is a very strong claim and one that may have been used with, for example, Ceausescu n Romania less than 5 years before his own people despatched him in the most appropriate manner possible to meet his Maker. And that justice was not delivered through the courts or by a corrupt public prosecuter. Imagine the bewildered look on Ceausescu’s face the moment before he took his justice and imagine the exact same look on Orban’s when he faces the same (let’s hope for his sake, non-fatal) revenge by “his” people. Where I will agree with you is the impossibility of removing this regime… Read more »
spectator
Guest
Gretchen : A note on what has happened to the Lipótmezö hospital: it was closed on April 1, 2007. Since then it has remained vacant. My friend, who sees it daily taking her kids to a near-by ovoda, said “they are waiting for it to degrade, so it can be bought/sold cheaply”. – And the next in the line is the Pető institute, another prime property. The “boys” really at work, grabbing everything on sight, doesn’t really matter already, to themselves, to the family or associates, the numbers just staggering. Even if a total stranger (why, there still is a few outsider with money!) become the beneficiary, the kickback still astronomical by common standards. Normafa ski resort? Who want to bet, that pretty soon Budapest will want to hold a Winter Olympic too? Orbán hasn’t tried it yet, and who knows, he may even picked up some skiing beside soccer as a hobby, and anyway, there still could be some “friendly” entrepreneurs in queue for favours, who missed somehow the stadiums… There is a substantial difference between “emperor” and “minister” – or at least it should be, in Hungary too. Originally the minister was the “one who acts upon the… Read more »
grantbg
Guest

@spectator: that was chilling.

spectator
Guest

grantbg :
@spectator: that was chilling.

I’m sorry, it really is.
Just read of the verdict in the next post, you’ll see, what I mean.
To me the only surprise there is the boldness, but obviously they feel that the time is ripe for the next level.

– And people feel embarrassed and complaining when a mere symbol of a tyrann toppled to the ground, because its too harsh and rude…but to rob disabled people from their only hope to be functional again is OK, punishing these Roma to the extreme even right and just, criminalizing the homeless is the civilized way to handle the question, and I can go on endlessly, so yes, we are already following the Pied Piper, one step at a time, but still.

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