Julianna Szvett is one homeless person who will not fall foul of Hungary’s new law fining people who spend the night sleeping rough in public places. She has managed to make a shelter in a cave, meaning she will not be hit with a fine, or sent to jail for not paying it.
Perhaps understandably, Szvett disagrees with the initiative: “Putting people in prison because of where they sleep is incredible. Where should those poor people sleep if they don’t have a better place? How are they supposed to pay the fines for sleeping outside or in the streets?” she said.
The author of the law targeting Budapest’s 10,000 homeless people is mayor of the city’s eighth district, Mate Kocsis. He claimed the legislation’s effects are being exaggerated.
“Nobody has been put in jail and nobody has been fined for being homeless. These are all distorted and misinterpreted statements. Of course these things sound good, so those who are attacking the whole package like to repeat them but they are not true. The essence of this regulation is prevention,” Kocsis said.
With only 5,000 places in shelters for half the amount of Budapest’s homeless, some say they have already suffered because of the new law.
Homeless woman Rieger Ildiko said she was told to get up by the police when she was smoking a cigarette, or she would be fined 50,000 forints – roughly 160 euros.
Introduced by the ruling conservative Fidesz party and passed by parliament last month, the maximum fine is more than 460 euros – close to the average monthly wage in Hungary.