BUDAPEST, Hungary — According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, 13% of the society is at a relative risk of poverty, with 18.2% being the rate of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The homeless population in Hungary ranges from 10,000 to 60,000 people. About 8% of all households are tackling insecure circumstances of housing. Most of the rough sleepers tend to be men.
The definition of homelessness is not clear in Hungary. People qualify as homeless if they draw on homeless services, permanent homes for the homeless elderly, in-patient health care facilities for the homeless, or sleep rough.
Emergency and Temporary Shelters
According to European Social Policy (ESPN) report, there are different types of homeless shelters in Hungary: Permanent homes for the homeless elderly and in-patient health care facilities for the homeless.
Emergency shelters take in homeless people who can take care of themselves and know the rules of living in a community. They provide rooms with a maximum of 20 beds, separation for sick people is available, showers and toilets are separated according to gender and laundry and kitchen facilities are disposable for them, according to ESPN. Counseling and surveillance are accessible alongside the above-mentioned options for at least 14 hours of the day for free.
Temporary hostels also provide housing services for the homeless. It is different in the sizes of the rooms. The maximum capacity is 15 beds. Social work services are available, such as skills development, and casework. These hostels have a fee to pay for the allowance.
Another type of homeless shelter in Hungary is the rehabilitation institution. This accommodation houses homeless people “who are able to rehabilitate in their medical, psychological and social condition,” According to ESPN. They must be capable of going through the complex process that rehabilitation requires. These services target improving the skills of being an employee and being able to maintain a home and relationships.
Soup Kitchens and Day Centers
Temporary accommodation services for families with children have been available since 1997, according to the ESPN report. They bid for temporary housing for homeless families and psychological counseling. Homes for the homeless elderly are permanent institutions for people who cannot take care of themselves. They offer three meals daily, clothing and health care with powerful medical assistance.
Food service/soup kitchens have been operating since 1993. They provide food occasionally. They ensure people get 120% of the necessary amount of calories. It is free of charge for recipients.
Day centers for homeless people have had services since 2000. Personal hygiene, laundry and food are free in these centers. Street outreach is there for homeless people not to get harmed and make sure they get health are and accommodation. Social workers must have access to transportation, clothing, food and medicine. They operate for at least six hours on weekdays and during the evening hours in the winter, according to ESPN.
Emergency phone lines coordinate assistance for rough sleepers. They receive calls about people sleeping rough on the streets in condemning situations. They attract the attention of services and gather data and information on homeless shelters in Hungary. These lines are available 24 hours in the winter, so they notify the authorities if shelters are full. Healthcare centers are open 30 hours a week and 24-hour health centers and mobile health units are available 168 hours weekly.
Health Care in Homeless Shelters
Health care for homeless people is obtainable in-patient health care facilities, day centers and emergency phone lines coordinate assistance for rough sleepers. Temporary accommodation services for families with children also have reachable medical help for people.
The leader of one of the most significant homeless shelters spoke to The Borgen Project. She explained “They can use health care which depends on the district they go to. The doctors there specialize in this area.” The 34-year-old social worker explained the system of these services. General and family doctors are present. Nurses are working eight hours every day in different shifts. They have the word to decide if the health issue is severe. If the case is this, they will call an ambulance to take homeless people to the hospital for treatment. These centers do not have an extensive capacity. “We do not have many of these in Budapest. We tell people to go to the one in the city center,” she clarified. The institutions do not own a regulation that informs homeless people exactly where to go first: the shelters or the hospitals.
Homeless shelters are attainable for people who are declared homeless. They have to own documents that confirm their living situation. The woman who has been head of a Hungarian shelter for eight years stated how to get hold of these papers. “If they live on the streets, they can cooperate with the social workers on the streets. They can give them a document,” she explained. Street social workers assign a document that shows the shelter’s address as their permanent one.
According to the leader, nurses and doctors usually know the shelter’s population quite well. “If they have festering or swollen legs or arms, we push them to go to the doctor urgently. We have to consider other people there. It is essential to take care of them.”
Actions to Change The Situation of The Homeless
According to ESPN, the Hungarian government initiated a “Heated Street” (Fűtött utca) program between 2010 and 2014. It had the goal to put an end to rough sleeping in Budapest. It included creating new homeless shelters in Hungary to stay the night using properties owned by the state. Street homelessness decreased thanks to the program. A part of the plan was to help elderly homeless people and people with psychiatric problems get into homeless institutions faster.
Hungary outlawed rough sleeping in 2018. It had an echo around it emphasizing the criminalization of homelessness in Hungary, according to ESPN. Police must order homeless people to move into homeless shelters in Hungary. The authority gives them 90 days to accomplish it. According to the Constitution, they can go to prison in case of failure. The authorities have managed to improve social care in the capital. However, it is still an issue in the rural areas.
The leader of the Hungarian shelter believes “it is possible to reduce the number of homeless people.” She emphasized the examples from abroad where the improvements are visible. The Netherlands, China and the U.K. are among the countries that reduced the number of homeless people. She visualizes homeless people can get back on their feet. “That is the case sometimes in Hungary, but it is only the beginning.”
– Klaudia Laura Sebestyen