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Editorial: Homelessness should be legalized in Hungary

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The following is the editorial from the April 8 bi-weekly edition of the Budapest Business Journal.

Parliament is scheduled to take up a proposal in mid-April that would revoke a 2013 law making homelessness a petty criminal offense – legislation that no civilized country should have on its books.

Homelessness is a social issue, and homeless people need our support. If there is anyone committing an offense, it is a society that allows homelessness to reach epidemic levels. Those who are forced to live in the streets are victims of that society, and it makes no sense to punish victims. 

The only apparent reason for this law, which was enthusiastically supported by Budapest’s mayor, is that people who live in the street create an eyesore for others. Some may feel more comfortable if the problem of homelessness is kept out of sight, but it is childish to think hiding from a problem will solve it.

Homeless people need social assistance. If they fear arrest, they will be afraid to seek that assistance, and the problem of homelessness will only grow worse. An NGO called The City is for All estimates that HUF 284,460,000 has been spent on either pushing the homeless out of sight or arresting and prosecuting them. That money, and more, needs to be spent on providing the homeless with shelter, employment assistance, medical and psychological treatment and any other help they may need.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” As long as homelessness is illegal, our nation is far from greatness. Revoking the 2013 law criminalizing the homeless is the civilized thing to do.

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