Ilir Tsouko

Illegal Streets

Illegal Streets

In hardly any other Eastern European capital there are so many homeless people as in Budapest. But instead of helping them with more social laws, the government is criminalizing the already weak. Since October 2018, a new constitutional law has prohibited "living in public spaces". This includes, for example, when homeless people sit or lie down somewhere with their widespread belongings. Anyone who fails to comply with the police's requests to leave the place three times within three months’ risks being arrested and even sentenced to prison. In fact, in the weeks after the law came into force, the homeless disappeared from the squares and underpasses. But instead of going into the shelters, it has pushed them to the outskirts of the city where social workers can hardly find them.

19,000 places in shelters for currently 30,000 homeless on Hungary's streets. One third of all Hungarian households are said to have problems paying their monthly rent. Almost 1.4 million households are currently in debt and live on a loan, with low-income earners having to pay the largest share.

I have visited Budapest to see the situation with my own eyes. During the day, the homeless where hiding in between the crowded squares of Budapest. At the Blaha-Lujza square you can see the homeless people standing in line for lunch. After lunch, they disappear. Where are they going? Where do they live? How do they dress?

Not far away from Blaha-Lujza Square the Oltalom karitatív egyesület, a homeless shelter lead by Ivany Gabor, is providing food, beds, clothes and a safe place for everyone who is in need. I saw there homeless who are still working but cannot afford to rent a flat. I met people who could have been my friends, my neighbours, my family. They were wearing clean jackets and shoes, some had well-groomed hair and watchful eyes. I set up my studio, a black background, one spot light and my camera. I wanted to give them a stage. To make them feel that they are important for what they are. I bought coffee and cigarettes and I put a small table in front of a chair where I invited them to sit and talk to me.

Leaving the shelter, I understood that the clean clothes are a camouflage. Not to be recognised as homeless. But is homelessness a crime? I have seen in their eyes the pain of being in a situation in which they have never wished to be. But who has taken the time to stop and ask for the reasons why they are where they are today? It is easy to point the finger to the weak, but in a mature society there is place for everybody, and the responsibility of keeping democratic values is spread among every single citizen. 

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