SEATTLE, Washington — Though homelessness is a common issue identified in most nations across the globe, the Hungarian government’s ban on the homeless population presents a special case. Hungary currently has no plans to aid the homeless population and has instead turned to criminalization and even incarceration of homeless individuals in its cities. Fortunately, organizations in Hungary and the U.S. are devoting efforts to improving the lives of those battling homelessness.
Statistics of Homelessness in Hungary
An estimated 10,000 to 60,000 people make up the homeless population in Hungary, with a majority of approximately 10,000 living in the capital city of Budapest. Including the people living in insecure tenures and unstable housing situations, around 300,000 households have individuals at risk of becoming homeless. Of the existing homeless population, 25% suffer from mental illness, 50% have no form of stable income and 20% have one or more addictions. Additionally, a staggering 66% of the homeless population consider their health issues as a barrier to attaining work.
Around a third of the total population in Hungary is vulnerable to the threat of poor living conditions. This is partially a consequence of the increasingly high housing costs in Hungary. The cost of rent rises higher, yet the Hungarian population is earning an average salary below that of the average European standard. This makes eviction one of the largest causes of homelessness in Hungary. Approximately 200,000 to 300,000 families in Hungary need affordable housing, with around 50,000 of these families on the very verge of homelessness.
Criminalization of Homelessness
The 2010 Law on Constructions and the following 2011 Law on Misdemeanors legally banned homelessness in Hungary. Though the Constitutional Court rescinded the sections criminalizing homelessness in 2012, the government responded by amending the Hungarian Constitution in 2013 to allow local governments and Parliament the power to make laws to once again criminalize homelessness. The government of Hungary immediately took advantage of this and instituted the criminal offense of “infringing the rules of residing on public premises for habitation.”
The Law bans homeless citizens from residing on public property, begging and dumpster diving in most of Budapest, hindering essentially all forms of survival. It also increases their vulnerability to police brutality and discrimination. The Law punishes homeless citizens violating the legal provisions by sentencing them to community service or a fine. Most of the homeless population are not in good health, making community work difficult, and a fine ranging anywhere from $18 to $500 is a large sum to ask from an individual who may not even know how they will get their next meal. Unfortunately, for those unable to serve or pay a fine, sentences include confinement.
Organizations Fighting for the Homeless
- A Város Mindenkié: Known as The City is for All in English, this is an organization whose mission is to be proactive in the housing crisis with its anti-eviction campaign. The organization also researches, advocates and campaigns for social housing policies, ending the discrimination of homeless people and preventing homeless mothers from being separated from their children. The City is for All works with Utcáról Lakásba to renovate vacant flats to provide a way out of homelessness for families. Every year, this advocacy group organizes The Empty Apartment March to urge the government to allow vacant apartments to be used by the organization for social housing.
- Utcáról Lakásba Egyesület: Known as From the Streets Into Housing in English, this small nonprofit organization focuses on the renovation of state-owned houses in Budapest for homeless families to occupy. The organization operates as the final step in the societal reintegration process for homeless families and has helped 20 families move into flats and stabilize their living situations. The organization also provides services for improving the skills needed for employment.
- Van Esely: This organization aids the homeless population by providing tools and skills useful for attaining a stable job and has helped more than 200 people find sustainable employment in Hungary. Van Esely also encourages the education of the general public about homelessness in their communities to combat stereotypes placed on homeless people.
- Let’s Help Refugees Together: This small nonprofit offers hot meals once a month to homeless people in one of the poorest districts of Budapest, and is also focused on aiding refugees. The organization promotes ideals of civic charitability and responsibility, bringing volunteers together in community centers to help the homeless in Hungary’s capital.
- Habitat for Humanity: This international nonprofit began working in Hungary in 1996. In 2019, the organization aided 230 individuals using tools such as market development, civil society facilitation and rehab. The organization publicly advocates for fair, nondiscriminatory housing; however, its main contribution is using its volunteers to build quality, affordable housing for those in need.
- Projects for Peace: Bringing the Bronx to Budapest is a project that sends Americans to Budapest to conduct workshops teaching grassroots organization strategies to the homeless community. The purpose of these workshops is to encourage homeless individuals to reclaim their sense of dignity and understand their rights in the face of discrimination.
The statistics for homelessness in Hungary initially portray a troubled social and governmental system. However, with the hard work of nonprofits and other non-governmental organizations, improving the lives of the homeless throughout Hungary seems an achievable goal.
– Hanna Rowell
Photo: Wikimedia Commons