Homelessness Becomes Unconstitutional In Hungary

The Hungarian government under the leadership of Viktor Orbán has placed a constitutional ban on sleeping on the streets, making homelessness a violation of the country’s constitution. Under this new ban, homeless people who refuse to go to shelters when confronted by law enforcement could risk going to jail. However, activists have argued that the criminalization of sleeping on the streets violates human rights, and that the conditions of shelters within Hungary are already inadequately resourced in housing people who are homeless. More surprisingly, activists have also argued that the ban reflects political scapegoating, whereby homeless people have become the new victim of political rhetoric after refugees and migrants.

Gábor Iványi, a Methodist priest who runs homeless shelters in Budapest, the country’s capital, told The Guardian that “The government has realized they can’t play the migrant card endlessly… they need a new scapegoat,” revealing the correlation between the negative discourse of social issues as a method of political agenda. Reflecting this discourse, the mayor of Budapest’s 10th district, Róbert Kovács, stated in a request for government intervention that “They behave and act in a way that is disturbing for other people and is polluting the streets. They make normal use of public areas impossible and generate fear and disgust in normal people.” However, shelters within Hungary have been described as poorly resourced and unlivable. Eric Jeczkel, who is homeless, described homeless shelters as often “full of lice.”

The government’s methods of dealing with homelessness is unacceptable and must be altered immediately. Instead of taking legal action in minimizing poverty and homelessness, the government must take more proactive actions in dealing such issues. Allocating better resources and funding towards homeless shelters can have the capacity to improve living conditions within these shelters, potentially acting as an incentive for more people to utilize these shelters. Furthermore, scapegoating homeless people with negative rhetoric for political gain must also be reprimanded. An “us versus them” mentality only creates division and further alienates certain groups of people in society. This  contributes to a lack of social cohesion. To ensure that homeless people are portrayed fairly, government officials must stop their demonization and instead, focus on creating social security policy that will benefit such people. Other countries and institutions must place pressure on Hungary to change its law as it is a violation of human rights. Economic sanctions and a limitation of decision-making power within the European Union should be enforced for Hungary, giving an incentive for Hungary to change its policies.

As a country that has suffered political and economic turmoil in the 20th century, the current rise of right-wing thinking has remained as a prominent feature within Hungarian politics. Negative discourse surrounding homelessness has been circling since the election of Orbán in 2010, where earlier attempts to ban sleeping on the streets were refused by the Supreme Court. However, the recent surge in anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe overshadowed anti-homelessness rhetoric during the 2018 Hungarian Parliamentary Election which focused on border control and foreign meddling.

The Hungarian government must enact viable policies that do not infringe on the human rights of its citizens. Sleeping on the street and homelessness should not be perceived as a threat to the well-being of a society. In order to better accommodate for the growing numbers of homeless people within the country, the government must allocate sufficient funding and resources to provide shelters with better living conditions. Poverty should not be viewed as a crime.

Emily Kan