The law was introduced by the ruling conservative party Fidesz, on the grounds that Budapest did not have the capacity to deal with the estimated 10,000 homeless living within the city limits. Passed by a clear majority in parliament last month, the law prohibits individuals from sleeping in public spaces in towns and cities where shelters exist, but stipulates that those caught for a first time must first be given a warning.
Hungary is not the first country to pass laws targeting homelessness, but it appears to have taken a much harsher stance than some of its predecessors. Several cities in the United States have also enacted so-called “sit/lie” ordinances, however the main difference seems to be they only prohibit squatting public areas during daylight hours. One exception is the city of Los Angeles, home to the notorious “Skid Row”, which has grappled for years with chronic homelessness. In 2002, the city began enforcing a law flat-out prohibiting individuals from sitting, lying or sleeping in public byways. However, in 2006 a court of appeals found the law unconstitutional
In the weeks before Hungary’s new homeless law came into effect on December 1, human rights advocates and homeless groups loudly spoke against it, saying it essentially criminalises homelessness and unfairly punishes a disadvantaged population for being poor. After organising several protests and sit-ins in Budapest, Hungarian activists have since started an online petition demanding that the law be revoked.
Repeated attempts to reach the law’s author, Mate Kocsis, mayor of Budapest’s eighth district, for a response were not immediately answered.
Video comparing fine on chronic homelessness to the cost of a luxury hotel. Video posted on YouTube by taszegyesulet.