Hard winter looms for homeless and charities that help them
To many people autumn begins the run-up to Christmas. As the days shorten and tans fade, it is also the start of the annual crisis period for workers caring for the homeless. Fifty-one people died sleeping rough during the last critical period (1 November to 15 March annually), most from hypothermia. During these months crisis vehicles provide support for work on the streets.
A little warmth
“We have 20 additional emergency mattresses during the winter, where we can accommodate homeless people brought in by the crisis vehicles and social workers for a night,” says Nóra Bagdi from the Menedékház foundation. Those arriving are given hot tea and bread with lard. “Last year thanks to a tender that we won we were able to give our clients fruit, vegetables and tinned foods (but) now we don’t have the money for that,” Bagdi says regretfully.
As in the summer homeless people are only admitted to the Menedékház if they are recommended by a social worker. Bagdi describes the process: “The dispatcher receives the calls. It makes no difference whether they come from the homeless persons themselves or from residents or passers-by. The dispatcher then sends a crisis vehicle or the regular street service to pick up the homeless person.”
However, the crisis period also means much more than that. The Menhely Foundation, another organisation helping the homeless, offers special care services during winter. Hot tea is distributed on the streets. Zoltán Aknai from Menhely says recovery beds are made available from 1 November. “There is the possibility for homeless people who have been discharged from hospital but are not fully healthy to recover before they return to the streets.” The dispatcher service, which coordinates the journeys of street workers and crisis vehicles and receives calls for help by telephone, has additional workers during the critical months.
Funding in limbo
However, these vital services are based on insecure financing. “Right now we don’t know how we will manage the second half of the crisis period,” says Bagdi. The problem is common to other organisations dealing with the homeless. Aknai says: “The trouble is that the funds have been held back from the Hajléktalanokért Közalapitvány (Foundation for the Homeless) and the Összefogás Közalapitvány (Solidarity Foundation) by the state. Those foundations cannot announce tender invitations and so we cannot obtain any funding.”
Last year the tenders had long been completed by this time and the funds distributed. “At the moment we don’t know how we will run our service from 1 January,” he says.