The Constitutional Court struck down on Monday the law that bans the homeless from living on streets, saying that, following a petition from Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Máté Szabó last December, it has found “contrary to the Fundamental Law” certain provisions that “criminalised people living at public areas permanently”.
The Act on Petty Offences, adopted last November, set prison sentences of up to 75 days or fines of up to HUF 150,000 (EUR 527.12) on those found sleeping on the street or storing their property there for the second time in six months.
The court “has annulled the provisions that gave right to local governments to impose fine and confiscation against homeless people and to introduce contraventions sanctioning their ‘antisocial behaviour’”, a statement said, adding that the provisions “violate legal certainty, the right to human dignity and the right to property”, and as such were unconstitutional.
Homelessness is a social problem that the state must address through administration and services but not by punishment, the judges said.
Court rejects law punishing homeless
The law, proposed by ruling Fidesz MP and mayor of impoverished District VIII Máté Kocsis, claimed the capital could not handle the large number of homeless on the streets and followed a direction set by earlier decrees of Budapest City Council that made it illegal to sleep or drink in underpasses. It has repeatedly been condemned by Szabó, whose petition described the regulations and sanctions as “neither effective nor preventive but only suitable for further discrimination and humiliation of [homeless] people”.
Hungarian and international organisations joined in the condemnation. “By way of the legislative pen, the Hungarian Parliament has labelled tens of thousands of homeless people… as potential criminals,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda said in February. “Moreover the law has a discriminatory impact on those living in poverty” at a time when the global economic crisis is causing increasing homelessness among Hungarian families, she said. International NGO Human Rights Watch spoke in April of the serious human rights concerns raised by the law.
Hungarian activist group A Város Mindenkié (The City is for All), which has staged various protests and sit-ins at Kocsis’ mayoral office and in front of the Ministry of Human Resources since the adoption of the law, applauded the Constitutional Court’s decision as “a victory for the rule of law, for homeless people and for everyone who has spoken out against the public persecution of homeless people over the year. Street homelessness has to be ended not through force but through social services of appropriate quality”.
8,000 may be in Budapest
Some 30,000 are estimated to be homeless in Hungary, of which 8,000 are on the streets or in huts, tents and abandoned buildings in Budapest. Shelter facilities have been expanded ahead of the winter but critics say they remain insufficient and underfunded.