Budapest through the Eyes of the Homeless

Mariann Majorné Venn

By Mariann Majorné Venn, on November 4th, 2013

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While the parliament votes on a law containing restrictions on the homeless living in the street, the team of website went to a city walk to see how this policy would make the homeless people invisible. Lots of bars, jam-packed hostels, ruined huts, friendly policemen, inhuman laws – we had a conversation with the social workers of Shelter Foundation and the homeless activists of The City is Everyone’s about the homeless’ everyday life and perspectives.

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The Shelter Foundation organizes city walks regularly, guided by homeless tour guides and social workers. The current tour became even more interesting and needed now that the Parliament approved a new law on public offence. This law will provide possibility for local governments to restrict the habitual living of the homeless in designated public areas.

‘The Homeless Degrade the Course of Business’: a Common Misrepresentation

The tour guide, the 50-year-old Attila, who has lived in the streets for a long time, does not need to take us far to demonstrate the technique of this restriction. We stop at a grocery on the boulevard. He shows that the aerator with warm airflow would be attractive as a place to sleep, if it wasn’t welded in. “Previously the shops didn’t mind if one or two people lived next to them on the street, what is more, it meant defense as well, against burglary” – he told us. However, as Attila says, for a few years the public opinion has changed: “it implies that the homeless people are criminals and a lot of people believe it. It is not a good sight; it warns off the tourists and degrades the course of business. The conception is that making poor people disappear will solve this problem.”

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From here we went into the daytime warm shelter of the Shelter Foundation in Kürt street. The former thermal public bath function has partly remained, among others homeless people can regularly wash here. Besides the recently expanded daytime shelter and luggage storage there is also customer service, where the social workers can help for example in the application for the necessary documents.

Homeless with Their Own Room

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Attila found himself on the street after he got involved in two businesses in which he says he should not have. Both have gone bankrupt and he “fell into poverty within two months”. He has been put out from the lodging, he had some thousands of forint and his old friends passed to the other side of the street when they met him.

While he was trying to survive, he became an activist. He takes part in the organization of The City is Everyone’s with other homeless people. He engages with such things, which he considers important, and he feels it makes him stronger mentally as well.

“The real change came when I discovered that I am not the only one, but anyone can easily fall in that situation because of a bad business decision, sickness, closure of the workplace, divorce or anything.” Nowadays, among others, he tries to explain the characteristics of homeless-life to children using playful methods.

Attila thinks that the temporary hostels are like low quality worker hostels. The capacity is limited. There are many applicants, even though only the homeless people with regular income can afford the 10-20-thousand forints fee of one bed in the 4-6-bed rooms.

Attila is no longer in the hostel for homeless, currently he has a job he is an Information Technology specialist. He has a small, few square meter room. However, he has a place to sleep, the danger of slipping back is not totally over yet.

Displacing Homeless from Downtown Area

“The circle of homeless people is not at all as linear as people think” – said one of the social workers participating in the tour. There are some, who are temporarily hosted by their acquaintances or they can pay their living from a more stable income elsewhere, but sooner or later lot of them return to the street. The new law allows legally displacing homeless people from downtown. It may have the side effect of increasing the number of long terms homeless and of reducing forms solidarity that exists among them. Nobody knows what would happen if the downtown districts ban those who usually live there.

The question is where homeless people could go. It is sure, that the hostels cannot provide for all the homeless people of the capital city. The new facilities opened in the recent past mean plus 700 accommodations, taking the full capacity up to 6000. Despite this, according to estimations, at least 10 000 people do not have a home in Budapest, so the hostels are already totally full.

Theoretically, it would be imaginable that some move to periphery areas, forests, bushes, but another element of the new regulation will prohibit it. “This is an inhuman attack against those homeless who try maintain their independence” – said Attila. “If you see an unfortunate person in the street, don’t kick into him, but try to help him.”

Message from Hungary, Mariann Major Vén, URBACT National Dissemination Point for Hungary

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