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Dispute over homeless law rolls on

November 18th, 2013

Left-wing columnists accuse the government of weakening solidarity and sweeping problems under the carpet, as the Budapest Assembly passed a decree banning people from living on the street in certain areas. Conservative commentators contend that there are enough places in shelters for the homeless, thus the Fidesz-led council is right to ban anti-social homeless people from specific busy downtown areas.

On Thursday, the Budapest Assembly passed a decree banning people from sleeping rough in the vicinity of historical heritage locations. The relevant legislation (see BudaPost October 7) stipulates that local councils may ban the homeless from specific public areas. The law has been staunchly criticized by the left-wing opposition parties, while Fidesz maintains that there are enough shelters in Budapest to lodge all the homeless in the city. Before the vote, activists of a homeless and housing organization A Város Minenkié (The City is for All) held a sit-in in City Hall, delaying the session until they were escorted out by security guards.

In Magyar Nemzet, Melinda Farkas suggests that the protesters trying to block the vote were orchestrated from behind the scenes by the left-liberal parties. The pro-government columnist considers the criticism expressed by the opposition parties complacent. She finds it peculiar that in the 13th District, the Socialist Mayor (the only left-wing District Mayor in Budapest) proposed harsher rules than most of his peers. (Sleeping rough should be banned in the vicinity of all main roads, playgrounds, public institutions and markets.) Farkas points out that those who oppose the measures proposed by Fidesz, do nothing to help the homeless, but ignore their problems by claiming that they should be left alone to do whatever they want. Farkas notes that in some cases, beggars exploit children to collect more money. She adds that before banning them from sleeping in public spaces, the government made sure that enough places exist in the homeless shelters. Farkas concludes by claiming the government protects the legitimate interests of the majority of Hungarians when it removes anti-social homeless people from busy public areas. Most are addicts, she adds, who refuse any help and want to sleep in their own waste.

Those who have ever visited Krakow or Zurich know that in these cities, the police immediately remove homeless people and beggars from downtown areas, Ferenc Gyarmati writes in Magyar Hírlap. The right-wing commentator believes that homeless shelters and soup kitchens should be built in the outskirts of Budapest in order to keep the downtown and residential areas clean and safe. In an aside, Gyarmati remarks that the homeless should also be expected to do some public work in return for the shelter and food they receive.

In Népszava, János Dési contends that the new rules are intended only to push the homeless out of specific parts of Budapest rather than to solve the homeless problem. The left-wing columnist believes that the Fidesz-led Budapest Council assumes that locals prefer law and order policies, and lack any sense of solidarity with the down-and-out. The protest against the new law can only be successful, he suggests, if people side with the homeless and do something in their defence. In a separate article he proposes that police officers should ignore the new regulations and refuse to remove the homeless from the designated areas.

Writing in Népszabadság, Péter N. Nagy finds it sad that, as he sees it, the public on the whole supports the harsh regulations towards the homeless. This lack of solidarity shows “the complete absence of social cohesion” in Hungarian society, the left-wing columnist maintains. As for the actual impact of the new regulations, Nagy speculates that they will remain mostly ineffective, since the police are only entitled to remove those homeless who actually live on the street, but if they stand up and lean against the wall, the authorities cannot order them to leave.

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