The cruelty of imprisoning the homeless
Hungary’s heartless government has just criminalized poverty, said Vera Kovacs. As of last week, when a constitutional amendment sponsored by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party went into effect, Hungary’s homeless can be thrown into prison for sleeping on the street. But where else are they supposed to go? There are some 30,000 homeless people in this country, and only 10,100 beds in shelters. With no safe place to stay, the most vulnerable Hungarians “will have to hide more, making it increasingly difficult for street social workers to find them and offer them vital services.” Some people believe that the homeless prefer prison in winter to the street, because at least there they are warm and fed. As a social worker, I know that’s simply not true. The homeless lose all their possessions when they are jailed—everything they own, everything they keep in a tent or shopping cart. Instead of banning the homeless, the government should invest in affordable housing and more shelter beds. But Fidesz won’t: It created the problem by slashing social benefits and failing to appoint a housing minister. Now it is spending resources on punishment rather than aid, hoping to drive the poor out of sight. Hungarians must stand up and denounce this policy as inhumane.