Dimitris Rapidis

Criminalizing the Homeless

Hungary has decided to ban homeless people that are discarded and dispatched in the streets of the country. Homeless people that have ended up in this condition for various reasons, amongst which we find the side effect of the economic crisis and the rising unemployment and poverty rates, are now persecuted. These people are completely deprived from any means of living and constitute the weakest part of the population living below the red line of poverty. Is this decision after all the depiction of a new political culture dealing with the issue of homeless people or is the Hungarian government that much concerned with the limits of using public space?

The campaign against homeless people started in Hungary in 2010 and has been developed in successive steps. The mindset of such a decision was never altered throughout the years and it was summed up in November 2011 with the adoption of the new Act on Petty Offenses -entered in force on April 2012- which clearly pointed out that residing habitually in public spaces is a criminal act. Within this legal framework, offenders of legislation would risk imprisonment for up to 75 days or fining up to 5oo euros approximately. For the record, around 30,000 people are homeless in Hungary, whereas in the entire country there is only on third of beds in public shelters that could host homeless people.

Needless to say, the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe, the UN Chart on Human Rights, and the common sense of solidarity and proper housing for all people are amongst the major legislative drawbacks against this decision to criminalize homeless people. Aside that, it is literally humiliating for these people to be treated in that way, even if this practice could be revoked as part of the anti-povery strategy of the country. Common sense, there is no way of combatting poverty by legally condemning all these people being victims of economic meltdown. Frankly speaking, it is a deeply discriminating policy.

This decision was struck down by the Constitutional Court of Law, but despite that, the government has decided to completely ignore it and move on as planned. Further, instead of taking seriously into consideration their human rights obligation, the Hungarian government is committing an additional crime: that of pushing homeless people closer to becoming potential criminals.

In a broader context, the criminalization of homeless people could sufficiently establish a pragmatic precedent, which is, the further implementation of similar discriminating decisions in other countries. Considering the countless people being in similarly desperate condition in Europe and elsewhere, social and anti-poverty measures could shift from pro-human to counter-human, thus depriving homeless people from their well-established right to shelter and food.

The European Union should act against this decision along with all organizations in Hungary and Europe coping with social affairs. The risk of a European society being transformed into a dustbin of extremism and racism could be more imminent than ever before, especially in a period of shaky and conflicting developments regarding social protection and safety.

*Please follow the campaign and spread the word to as much people as you can. We should all press the European Union bodies and affiliated organizations in Europe and abroad to act against this discriminating policy. Here is the link of the campaign*



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