Where Have all the Bums Gone?

Budapest eleventh-district homeless resident Johnny [Jánoska].

Budapest eleventh-district homeless resident Johnny (Jánoska).

It sure is nice not to have all the homeless people living around the eleventh district of Budapest anymore. They have no respect for their environment, they relieve themselves in the open, they leave empty bottles and other refuse behind them, they throw garbage all over the place when they rummage through trash cans. They are a real mess and  probably a health hazard. There used to be dozens of them living along the railroad embankment where people walk their dogs just down the street. One guy, whom locals claimed had tuberculosis, lived at the entry of the nearby main post office for several years, grumbling insanely at people as they walked past.

The Orbán government has got rid of them. Soon after Orbán came to power in 2010, the cops started checking their identity cards after nightfall and sending them away. Many men in blue standing around shriveled homeless people examining their IDs with a flashlight. Then the extended arm with the finger pointing. Then the shriveled men gather their bags and tramp off into the dark.

The government says that they are “lending them a helping hand” and sending them to stay the night in homeless shelters. But not even the government claims that there are enough beds in these shelters to accommodate all the homeless in Hungary. Official Central Statistics Office data from the year 2011 showed that there were 17,000 homeless people in the country, while civil society places this number at about 30,000. The government news agency MTI and civil society both estimate that there are about 8,000 homeless people living in Budapest.

Police conduct identity check on homeless men in the 11th district of Budapest.

Police conduct identity check on homeless men in the 11th district of Budapest.

According to everybody’s data, here are 5,500 beds in homeless shelters in Budapest and 5,000 beds in homeless shelters throughout the rest of Hungary. Thus between half and two-thirds of homeless people in the country do not have access to beds in homeless shelters. They have probably found places to spend the night where the cops do not harass them. One homeless man who used to live in the neighborhood can now be seen wandering around the tree- and shrub-lined streets at the foot of Gellért Hill. Some may have moved into camps at the periphery of the city, though the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) administration appears to have razed many of these, such as those that used to lie along the Danube in southern Buda.

It will certainly become even harder for homeless people to find a place to stay now that Fidesz-KDNP has adopted an amendment to the Fundamental Law (the name of the party’s new constitution for Hungary) that makes it possible for municipal councils, such as that in the eleventh district of Budapest, to enact statutes banning the habitation of public spaces and punish violation of them as a Petty Offense entailing possible fines and imprisonment (see Orbán Government Homeless Policy).

It sure is nice not to have all the bums around. But one has to ask: where have they all gone? And more importantly, where will they go now that the constitution makes it possible to outlaw living on the street, yet there is not nearly enough capacity in homeless shelters to accommodate all of them?

See: photo gallery Homelessness in the Eleventh District of Budapest.