Xpat Opinion: Hungary’s Approach To Homelessness

  • 29 Nov 2013 8:00 AM
Xpat Opinion: Hungary’s Approach To Homelessness
Homelessness in Hungary is back in the news. Recently, the municipal government of Budapest approved a local ordinance that prohibits so-called “habitual living” in certain designated areas of the capital – mostly Budapest’s world heritage sites and parts of downtown.

I understand the controversy. Homelessness is a sensitive subject. But this legislation is not substantially different from those bans on ‘urban camping’ – or sleeping rough – that we find in dozens of other cities around the world. Nevertheless, the Hungarian legislation has become a choice target for civic organizations that claim that such prohibitions on habitual living on certain designated areas of the city are a cruel, inhuman action.

I’ve been through the argument a few times on this blog (see here and here), laying out why the government sees it differently. How is it inhuman or cruel to move homeless people off the streets, especially as winter approaches, and into shelters? Let us not even delve into the issues of health, security and public order.

Thankfully, the debate has shifted recently away from the legislation itself – can you prohibit people from sleeping on public property? – to the question of whether the national government and the local governments are doing enough to provide adequate shelter for the neediest. That’s a good debate to have.

“If needed, the Ministry of Interior is ready to double the number of places available for homeless people,” said Minister Sándor Pintér in a recent interview. “Currently there are ten thousand places ready to be used by those in need, but there will be no underpasses opened.” He added that in the coldest months of last year, approximately ten thousand people were in need of shelter.

Is the government doing enough? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

The number of places available at shelters in Hungary has increased by 35 percent, from 8,208 to 11,102. That’s the figure that Minister Pintér claims could be doubled if needed. In 2012, the government spent 8.5 billion HUF (approximately 28.6 million EUR) for services on the homeless and 9 billion HUF (30.3 million EUR) in 2013. In addition, the state gave 860 million HUF (2.9 million EUR) to civic organizations providing homeless care and services for accommodation, training and re-employment.

As part of Hungary’s development strategy, 917 million HUF (3 million EUR) was offered for tenders for housing and employment projects for homeless people.

Where does all this money go? Here are some examples: The ‘Heated Street Program’ increased the night shelter places available by 44 percent. A new, high standard homeless shelter was built in the 13th district. The ‘Soul Program’ helps the homeless reintegrate into society by providing mental health services. The ‘Back from the Streets Program’ assists the reintegration of families affected by homelessness.

The policy of the previous Hungarian government – and the previous mayor of Budapest – seemed to be to ignore the homelessness problem in the name of human rights. They even closed a psychiatric hospital in Budapest, leaving many of the patients with nowhere to go but the streets. What kind of programs did they come up with to help and shelter the homeless rather than simply leave them to sleep on the streets?

Show me, and I’d be happy to see a debate about the effectiveness of those programs. Because that’s what we should be debating – what are the most effective programs to provide shelter and services to the homeless, one of modern society’s most difficult issues? It’s nonsense to suggest that a government – municipal or otherwise – is infringing upon some kind of sacred human right when it passes a law that says that a person – homeless or otherwise – does not have an absolute right to set up camp on public property.

Homelessness is a complex issue and the fact that it was swept under the carpet for the past 20 years does little to help us find quick results.

By Ferenc Kumin

Source: A Blog About Hungary

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