Rough Sleeping Outlawed In Hungary As New Law Comes Into Force

Hungary has banned rough sleeping and has given police officers the power to remove homeless people from the streets and to destroy their belongings. The law was passed by parliament in June, however it came into force on Monday after months of criticism. The law specifically bans “habitual residence in a public space.” According to Reuters, it allows police to order homeless people to move into shelters. If they disobey three times within a 90-day period, the police can detain them and destroy their personal belongings. The law comes five years after a legislation was passed making homelessness punishable with a fine.

According to Reuters, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government said that the new law aims to provide proper living conditions for homeless populations and has increased funding for homeless provisioning. Prime Minister Orbán also said that they allocated 9 billion forints to homeless care in the 2018 budget, and 300 million forints to expand shelter capacities. “We believe we need to give additional help and not additional rights to homeless people,” Bence Rétvári, state secretary, told reporters. The crackdown on homeless people is to “ensure that homeless people are not on the streets at night time and that citizens can make use of public space unimpeded” said the minister of state for social affairs, Attila Fülöp.

Gabor Ivanyi, who leads Oltalom, a shelter in Budapest that operates 600 beds, denied any cooperation with the government. Additionally, he said that the government failed to conduct proper dialogue with charity organizations prior to passing the legislation. “This law serves the aim of scaring the homeless to prompt them to flee [the streets],” Ivanyi said, “They are scared and don’t know what to do now. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

Reports show that Hungary has at least 20,000 homeless people with only an estimated 11,000 places available in state-run shelters. Humanitarian organizations and others have spoken out against the cruelty of the new law. According to Al Jazeera, last month the European Parliament (EU) voted to start legal action against the government in Hungary for the mistreatment of their homeless populations. The EU views Hungary’s new policy as a serious breach of their core values. This was the first time that the legislature has triggered Article 7, a disciplinary procedure that has the ability to strip the Hungarian government of its EU voting rights. In addition, on Sunday, 500 protesters demonstrated against the inhumane law outside the Hungarian parliament. “I believe this is shameful… that they criminalize the impossible and helpless situation that these people are in,” said Agnes Merenyi, one of the demonstrators. An activist group, Varos Mindenkie, (meaning “the city is for everyone”), said in a statement: “The constitutional amendment allows the authorities to persecute the most helpless people with a wider range of policy tools.”

Homelessness is an issue worldwide that requires the cooperation of governments, non-profits and shelters in order to find meaningful solutions for people living on the street. Criminalizing homelessness is inhumane and directly undermines finding solutions. Banning homelessness is punishing the most vulnerable populations for issues that are largely systemic, and that homeless populations did not create and do not control. The amendment will not help to reduce homelessness. Rather, it will further marginalize homeless people and amplify the severity of their suffering. Efforts to reduce homelessness must take a humanitarian approach that prioritizes and protects the rights of all people. In addition, setting aside funds, although important, is not enough to eradicate the problem. Substantial cooperation between shelters and the Hungarian government is necessary. Without cooperation, funds likely will not be used most effectively and the homeless situation will continue as usual.