Homeless ban passes, protests triggered

In Hungary


The Parliament of Hungary passed a law on Monday that essentially criminalizes homelessness, placing the future of thousands of people on the streets of Budapest and other cities in grave jeopardy. 

Under the law, which will become effective next week, police will have free rein to clear out people sleeping outdoors in public places and other locales, particularly World Heritage sites and parts of cities popular with tourists, forcibly moving them to homeless shelters. The government said the law seeks to protect “public order, security, health and cultural value.”

The new bit of legislation is in actuality merely a revamp of a 2012 law. Essentially worded the same as the now extant law, the previous Fidesz-led bill was deemed illegal by the constitutional court -- only to see the ruling coalition change the restrictions on passing such a law in March 2013.

Advocates for the homeless assert that the law is designed to fine and/or imprison street people in the event they refuse to be moved to shelters. They cite that one provision of the law calls for the incarceration of people who construct unsanctioned structures, endangering the indigent who have managed to build ramshackle abodes in open spaces and in forests.

Naturally, the passing of the law garnered lots of negative international attention, with organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Venice Commission and the European Federation of National Organizations Working With The Homeless (FEANTSA) weighing in on the controversial decision.

Protests which attracted a few hundred in Budapest were organized by the local group The City Belongs to Everyone (AVM). AVM activist Tessa Udverhelyi was often quoted as explaining that “Homeless people have always been harassed by the authorities. The difference is that this government ... is codifying the fact that homeless people are stigmatized, harassed and criminalized.”

In response to criticism that Hungary's shelters simply don't have the resources to accomodate the estimated 10,000-plus homeless in Budapest alone, Foreign Media Relations State Secretary Ferenc Kumin stated that “There are plenty of places for daytime and for nighttime shelter. We believe that [the homeless are] almost 100 percent covered.”

Udvarhelyi maintains that just 6,000 spaces are available in Budapest homeless shelters.

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