Focus Ireland join Europe-wide protest against criminalisation of homelessness in Hungary on Human Rights Day

Focus Ireland is calling on its supporters to send a message to the Hungarian Ambassador in Ireland expressing their concern about the moved by the Hungarian Government to criminalise people who are homeless.

The campaign marks Human Rights Day and the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

In October 2018, the Government of Hungary made sleeping on the streets a constitutional crime. This is the latest in a succession of laws aimed at controlling and minimising the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Hungary.

The new law bans “habitual residence in a public space” and empowers police to remove rough sleepers from the street and dismantle temporary shelters. There are over 10,000 people experiencing homelessness in Hungary and around a third are sleeping rough.

Alison Connolly, Policy Officer in Focus Ireland said:

“Criminalising those experiencing homelessness is never the answer. Homelessness is a structural and societal problem; it is not a choice. Criminalisation risks further marginalisation and usually serves only to drive people into hidden homelessness and out of the reach of support services.

We are facing an unprecedented homeless crisis in Ireland, with almost 10,000 people in emergency accommodation and a record number of homeless shelters opening every week. The Irish public is rightly horrified by the scale of the crisis, and have given Focus Ireland huge and valued support through volunteering, raising the issue with our politicians and donations.

But as Christmas approaches, we also think of those beyond our shores. Homelessness is an increasingly global crisis and solidarity is an important aspect of effectively tackling it. We are asking people who support the work of Focus Ireland here at home, to stand in solidarity with similar services in Hungary who are working under incredibly difficult circumstances to deliver solutions to people experiencing homelessness”.

The campaign is part of a wider campaign spearheaded by FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organizations with the Homeless, which highlights a new wave of laws that discriminate against people experiencing homelessness and prevent them from occupying the public space. Apart from legislation that makes it illegal to sleep, stay or store personal belongings in public spaces, we have seen several attempts to ban begging. Furthermore, defensive public furniture like anti-homeless spikes or benches, have been introduced with the privatisation of public spaces. Earlier this year the Government of Hungary made homelessness a criminal offence resulting in European citizens being brought to court, fined, imprisoned and having their possessions burnt in an EU member state.

Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organizations with the Homeless) said:

“What is most worrying about Hungary is the lack of reaction and international condemnation by European governments and the European Commission. We talk about the need for a more social Europe, and yet here in an EU member state, people are being imprisoned for being poor. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society, and those in a position of power are allowing this practice to continue”

Homelessness is growing in 27 of the 28 EU Member States. Homelessness is the infringement of basic human rights, where the entire social system has failed to ensure the right to an adequate standard of living, access to education, health and housing. If we wish to reverse these trends we need to invest in solutions, not criminalising people living in extreme poverty.

You can support the Focus Ireland campaign here.

Media: For interview opportunities with Focus Ireland’s Alison Connolly, please contact Alan Neary on 0864680442

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