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An unjustifiable persecution of homeless people is one of the outcomes of a controversial modification of the Hungarian Constitution earlier this month. The amendment allows municipalities to ban homeless people from public spaces which will not only create further legal and social conflicts, but will worsen the situation of thousands of homeless people in Hungary.

As EPHA recently reported, Hungary has been hit hard by the economic crisis. Among other malaises, poverty levels have gone through the roof. Due to substantial cuts on health and social spending, the Hungarian social protection system is increasingly unable to prevent thousands of people from becoming homeless.

As a result of substantial cuts on health and social spending, the ability of the Hungarian social protection system to provide the benefits and services that for years have prevented people from sinking into poverty have been dramatically constrained.

The human face of homelessness

When a society sees rising numbers of people sleeping rough it is an unequivocal sign that things have gone badly wrong. This is when an accountable government takes action and looks at the root causes of such social problems. There it is an unjustifiable he government of prime minister Viktor Orbán to persecute society’s most vulnerable, a criminalisation of poverty in the targeting of the homeless of their own country. By making criminals of people that cannot afford their own shelter, Hungarian authorities appear to be outrageously out of touch. Fining and jailing the poor does not feel like a coherent approach to tackle Hungary’s serious social issues. If anything, this move will make the lives of many even more miserable.

How is Hungary criminalising poverty?

]Following an initial legal proposal in 2010, which was subsequently struck down by the Hungarian Constitutional Court->5623], the Hungarian government has passed a Constitutional amendment in order to allow this to pass. Despite the United Nations (UN) plea for Hungary to uphold the Constitutional Court’s decision to decriminalise homelessness, the Hungarian Parliament finally adopted the modification of the Hungarian Constitution in March 2013.

A wrong step, in the wrong direction right in the midst of the worst national, European and international financial, economic and social crisis in over half a century

The constitutional amendments have triggered a wave of criticism not only from Hungarian NGOs and the European civil society (including EPHA), but from the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz , and the United States, as well.

In light of all of this, the European Parliament will hold a general discussion about the Hungarian actions in Strasbourg on 17 April 2013.

The legal problem with the Hungarian Constitutional amendment

As the Hungarian Constitutional Court declared in its II/01477/2012 decision of 12 November 2012, the restrictions violate the right to human dignity. Human dignity and rights should prevail against any kind of constitutional restriction.

The social problem of criminalisation

Blaming homeless people for their own misfortune will do nothing to address this social problem. If Budapest is really committed to make homelessness history, it needs to make a U-turn in the way it protects the people that, for one reason or the other, have been left behind, according to FEANTSA [the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless. It is an umbrella of not-for-profit organisations which participates in the fight against homelessness in Europe. It is the only major European network focusing exclusively on homelessness at European level.]] President, Rina Beers said [: “Criminalising homeless people is not the answer. Criminalisation measures are cruel and ineffective, since they aim to remove the visible aspect of homelessness from public view, rather than offering any real solution.”

What should happen now?

In order to avoid unnecessary and detrimental legal and constitutional conflicts, the first step must be the abolition of this ill-advised constitutional amendment.

The next is to tackle the root causes of homelessness and to mitigate the impacts of poverty that lead to homelessness: National Homeless Strategies, investments in human capital (in the light of the recently published EU Social Investment Package), research and data collection, sharing best practices, accessible advice centres, social housing etc. will all go a long way to tackling the real problem.

For more information, contact Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, EPHA Policy coordinator for Policy coherence at zoltan@epha.org.

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