Homelessness in Hungary

An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 people , including numerous women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities, are thought to be homeless in Hungary, in a country with a 10 million population. About 8,000 of those live in Budapest, the capital, but the city has only 5,500 available places in public shelters. This number has increased since the start of the crisis.

What is homelessness?

Homelessness can be defined narrowly to include only people without a roof over their heads or it can be defined more broadly. According to FEANTSA, [1] homelessness includes, as well as people who are roofless, people who are houseless and people who live in insecure and inadequate housing.

The factors leading to homelessness

There is a range of factors, which may lead to people to become homeless: health and homelessness have a relationship of both cause and effect: and illness (such as mental illness, substance abuse or illness leading to loss of employment) may be among the trigger factors that lead to homelessness.

The link between Housing, Health and homelessness

Homelessness is the extreme form of housing deprivation. Decent housing is an important social and environmental determinant of health [2].

It is well recognised that differences in health status at a population level are closely linked to social determinants of health [3]

Health inequalities- the unfair but avoidable differences in health status across different socio-economic groups in society - usually result from the uneven distribution of social and environmental determinants; the differential access to resources such as education, employment, health services and housing.

A Report shows that fuel poverty increases respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health diseases. In addition, it also impacts on educational achievements of children, dietary choices, and increased home injuries and accidents.

European decision makers highlighted that some homeless individuals may have drug or mental health-related problems while others are victims of domestic abuse.

The economic crisis worsened the housing situation

High housing costs have indirect negative health outcomes as it dangerously limits families spending for other basic needs. According to a 2011 report [4] inadequate housing accounts for around 100 000 deaths per year in the WHO European region.

Homelessness, as European wide phenomenon

Homelessness has a profound effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people living in the EU. Recognising the European dimension of homelessness, the European Parliament recently adopted the B7-0475/2011 resolution on an EU Homelessness Strategy.

The impact of the economic crisis on Europe

Facts and figures show the impact of the financial crisis on the population health in Europe. The current recession has made the situation worse, as redundancies and house repossessions are on the rise. At the same time, public spending is being cut across the EU. Frontline services need to protect people’s right to have a roof over their head.

The effects of the crisis on Hungary

First and foremost, Hungary was hit very hard by the economic crisis. Hungary received 25.1 billion US$ bailout from the EU in 2008. Public health decreased from almost €4 billion to €1.2 billion- with a 40% cut in the pharmaceutical sub-budget and sickness benefits significantly decreased from 2009 to 2010 due to the Semmelweis Plan introduced as of 1 August 2009.

International reactions to the Hungarian moves

From the United Nations, Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing recently urged the Government of Hungary to uphold the recent Constitutional Court decision decriminalizing homelessness.

"Homeless persons should not be deprived of their basic rights to liberty, or to privacy, personal security and protection of the family, only because they are poor and need shelter."

Furthermore they added the need to amend the anti-homeless legislation and to adopt a national housing strategy in Hungary, which will take into account the needs and views of the homeless and those inadequately housed, in conformity with international human rights obligations

- The Press Release ’Criminalization of homelessness to be included in the Hungarian constitution’ of ’The City is for All’ - ’A Város Mindenkié’ Hungarian NGO describing the situation in Hungary is available here

Punishing homeless people is unfair and only hides the real problem

"Növeli, ki elfödi a bajt." - Illyés Gyula

Homeless people are not responsible either for the crisis or for the cuts of social benefits. Punishing them is not only unjust but only tackle the symptom and does not resolve the roots of the homelessness as social phenomenon.

Thus, the real solution is to tackle the external circumstances which lead people to homelessness.

- Proposals to tackle the roots of homelessness - Recommendations for further action:

- Prepare integrated National Homeless Strategies - A growing number of countries have developed integrated national or regional strategies to tackle homelessness. These strategies can rely on prepared practical proposals included in the 5 policy recommendationswand the ’(Ending Homelessness: A Handbook for Policy Makers)’ prepared by FEANTSA

- Reconsider social spending as an investment for future human capital. The crisis is too often used as a false excuse to mitigate what can be done in particular for marginalised groups like homeless. Member states need to continue to spend on social issues and budgetary adjustments should be implemented after consulting with relevant stakeholders so as not to put social services in jeopardy.

- Continue research and collect more data in order to better identify the most vulnerable groups such as homelesses Both WHO and OECD plan to collect and harmonize more data about housing conditions and affordability.

- Address homelessness by making accessible advice centres, as well as counselling and rehabilitation programmes

- Share best practices - like the encouraging results of the “housing first” ’Un chez soi’ French experimental programme for reintegration of homeless people

Addressing these wider issues will ensure that repossessions of homes become an absolute last resort and will prevent people from becoming homeless. Lets put back János on the right track! Let’s give him a second chance for a better life!

- See further details here: Homelessness Becomes A Crime In Hungary

The author of this article is Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, EPHA Policy coordinator for Policy coherence. You can get in touch with Zoltan at zoltan@epha.org.

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[1] the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless

[2] Social and environmental determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow up in, live, work and age. They have impacts on the opportunities people have to have healthy lives; affect the chances of developing illness and suffering injury; and also impact on people’s life expectancy

[3] COM 14848/09.

[4] WHO report Environmental burden of disease associated with inadequate housing. Methods for quantifying health impacts of selected housing risks in the WHO European Region, 2011.,

Last modified on April 11 2013.