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Homelessness in Hungary now punishable by new laws

The actions of the Hungarian government have been criticised, with many citing the inhabitable homeless shelters as an important factor in the rise

Hungary has struggled to combat its 28-year-old problem of homelessness. It is estimated that the homeless population in Budapest is now as high as 30,000 people, and the problem is a consistently haemorrhaging wound in the country’s social structure. Previous attempts to solve the problem, such as the 2013 law that made sleeping in a public place a criminal offense and allowed for police to fine those who do so, have decayed as failures over time.                                           

Now, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has decided to take another hard line act against homelessness to remove the spotlight and speculation of the EU from this social flaw. The Hungarian constitution was therefore adapted on the 15th of October, 2018 to read that ‘Habitual residence in a public space is forbidden’. This measure gives police the power to fine and arrest those that will not accept places at public shelters, or pay the fine to avoid participating in public work programmes. Deputy minister for the ministry of Human Resources Bence Retvari argues that the amendment will better the lives of the homeless as it will force them to take shelter and avoid potential harm.

But why do the homeless not simply accept a space in the shelters provided? The homeless shelters throughout Hungary, according to United Nations rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, can only house roughly 11,000 people and are insufficient to rely on to solve the entire homelessness crisis alone. The homeless shelters have also been described by its occupants as inhabitable. Many have commented to reporters at CNN that they would ‘rather remain on the streets than turn to the shelters’.                                                  

The outrage of various non-governmental organisations and social services committed to supporting the homeless is palpable, as the new amendment would stretch their services to and beyond their full capacity.                                                                                                                    

In essence, Orban’s government has adopted what many would describe as an amateurish style of defeating social problems. Brute force of the government’s authority is unlikely to do anything more than subject homeless people to even harsher conditions that are not of their own choosing. It also turns them into targets ripe for the picking by police if they are unable pay the fines. It is a poorly conceived notion that criminalising homelessness will eradicate the problem, much like proposing that prohibiting medicine will be one step closer to encouraging people to become immortal.         

When I pass the homeless on the streets of Portsmouth I always imagine how that person was unfortunately reduced to those circumstances. People who are homeless have likely endured terrible things already. Adding the threat of arrest to that list will do nothing but add to their bitterness towards life, when what we should be trying to do is extend a helping hand to those suffering alone on the streets.                                                                                                         

What is your opinion on the actions of the Hungarian government towards the homeless? Share with the Galleon your view and opinions on the subject.