FIGURES released by FEANTSA, the European Observatory on Homelessness, show over 50 percent of Hungary’s homeless population resides in the country’s capital Budapest.
Over 9,000 of the countries estimated 15,000 homeless seek refuge in the city, ranking Budapest amongst Europe’s worst per capita.
Other European cities to score high were Rome, which had 7,000, Dublin at 2366, and Helsinki, where approximately half of Finland’s estimated 7,600 homeless live in the greater Helsinki area.
One of the most startlingly figures came from France, where a reported 453 homeless people died on French streets during 2013, the equivalent of one every 20 hours.
In Hungary, following the introduction of new legislation in 2013, enabling local authorities to make it a criminal offence to live in public spaces, homeless people sleeping rough can now be fined, and if convicted twice within a six-month period, may receive a custodial sentence.
The steps were taken by the Fidesz-KDNP parliament, in what was described as ‘measures to protect public order, security, health and cultural values in Hungary’.
These public spaces include underpasses, bridges, playgrounds, much of the city centre and Budapest’s world heritage sites: the banks of the River Danube and the historic Buda Castle area.
The City Belongs to Everyone, an activist group working with the homeless in Budapest, puts the figure closer to 10,000 adding that there are only 6,000 places for the homeless in the city’s hostels, forcing the remaining homeless to seek shelter on the streets.
The group, whose figures are hotly contested by the Hungarian government, says that 15% of all homeless people in Budapest live in public spaces, while 79% live in shelters and 6% use some other forms of housing.
In a statement released following the introduction of the new legislation, FEANTSA highlighted the lack of affordable housing as a factor, adding that forcing many of the homeless population into shelters is not the answer to the core problem.
The Hungarian Social forum reported in February of this year that 28 homeless people had died in the first two weeks of the month, as a result of over-exposure to the elements, though only three of the 28 who died were sleeping rough.
A recent survey carried out by the European Commission of Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion says that the recent financial crisis in the EU has led to a sharp rise in homelessness in the Union, altering the profile of the homeless population.
More young people, children, migrants and other disadvantaged minorities and families are increasingly at-risk of homelessness resulting in a high social cost of not tackling the homelessness issue throughout the continent.
The EU directive for Member States under the Social Investment Package encourages countries to introduce long-term homelessness strategies and policies at both national and regional level to ensure the prevention and early intervention against homelessness.
In 2013, the Hungarian government spent €35m on homeless services, a rise of €6m on the previous years figure.