Hungary Bans Public Sleeping in New Attack on Homeless

In June, Hungary passed a draconian law banning public sleeping, clearly targeting members of the homeless community, and now, the police are enforcing it.

This law, which the UN describes as “cruel,” is an extreme example of a sit-lie law, a type of discriminatory legislation designed to make public spaces more hostile to homeless people — and often catching others up in the enforcement net as well.

By effectively criminalizing homelessness, Hungary seems to think it will solve the country’s “homeless problem,” an issue that many nations also struggle with. In the United States, for example, homelessness in San Francisco is the subject of national headlines.

But this kind of legislation isn’t designed to address the root causes of homelessness or reduce the number of homeless people on the street by creating a robust social safety net to help them get housing and rebuild their lives. Instead, it’s just designed to sweep homeless people under the rug.

Hungary has explored several variations of this law. The first simply fined people for sleeping in public. Now, police can force someone who is sleeping in public to move. If the individual “refuses” to go into a shelter, law enforcement officers can confiscate their belongings and destroy their campsites. People who are caught multiple times may be jailed or forced to participate in a “work program.”

Worse yet, it’s actually written into the nation’s constitution, in a ploy to make the law less vulnerable to legal challenge. With winter rapidly approaching, it’s easy to see why the UN is raising the alarm. Is this really just an attack on the homeless community, which includes large numbers of disabled people, Roma and members of other marginalized groups?

The Hungarian government claims it will be investing in resources for members of the homeless community, but it’s been vague about their nature and timing. What are people supposed to do if there’s no shelter available?

Much of the framing around this law has not focused on the needs of homeless people themselves. Instead, it has referred to people sleeping on the sidewalk as a public nuisance, or an issue that interferes with public safety. And, sadly, treating homeless people as a problem rather than acknowledging the social factors that contribute to the rise of homelessness isn’t unique to Hungary.

An app called “Snapcrap” recently debuted in San Francisco, inviting people to photograph feces on the sidewalk and send it to the city — and the sentiments behind the app sound very similar to Hungary’s justification for harassing homeless people. The app’s founder told the Los Angeles Times: “The fact that San Francisco is one the most popular cities in the world and we have people living in fear who are scared to walk to work or take a bus is simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating.”

No mention of compassion there for people who are forced to defecate on the sidewalk because they have no safe place to live or use the restroom.

Impending human rights violations like this should always spark alarm, and they’re part of a larger agenda of a right-wing government that has previously demonized “migrants” for political gain. While obscure laws in Hungary might not seem relevant to a lot of the world, they should.

Aside from the fact that all humans everywhere deserve to be treated with dignity, the creep of what’s legally acceptable in Hungary mirrors that seen in other nations where far-right governments are coming into power. Harassing homeless people is a global pastime, and laws designed to abridge freedom often start with the most vulnerable communities and those least able to defend themselves.

Today, Hungary. Tomorrow? Who knows.

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland/Creative Commons

42 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 days ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 days ago

ty

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Edward Vaughn
Edward Vaughn5 months ago

The more Hungary revolts against the EU and refuses its share of illegal barbaric economic parasites, the more I'm beginning to respect it. Go, Orban!!

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Chad A
Chad Anderson5 months ago

Thank you.

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Freya H
Freya H5 months ago

What kind of society is so sick that it makes homelessness a crime? Not all homeless people are junkies or winos - some just made a bad decision or two, some had a string of bad luck. Not all homeless people are uncooperative, Steve F - you can't tar them all with one brush.

Meanwhile, providing the homeless with assistance is not enough. We need to go after the root causes, such as a lack of jobs that pay a living wage or a lack of affordable housing.

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

These poor people must be helped Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

Despicable Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

So hortible and sickening Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

Deplorable Thank you for caring and sharing

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill6 months ago

Tyfs

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