The homeless activists of The City is for All and their allies were holding hands, telling poems and singing around the chairs of the Budapest City Council members in the council’s assembly room at 8.15am on Thursday, November 14th. The group’s aim was to prevent the assembly from passing an ordinance, which extends the criminalization of homeless people to a major part of the city. With this demonstration, we have made it clear that homelessness is an inacceptable condition, which should be eliminated through social policy and not punitive measures.
Last year the Constitutional Court struck down a national law that criminalized homelessness on the grounds that it violated the right to human dignity. In order to be able to criminalize homelessness, the governing majority voted for a modification of the Fundamental Law, which now includes the state’s right to criminalize street homelessness. In September, the governing majority voted for a national law that makes street homelessness a petty offence on UNESCO world heritage sites (which is practically the entire downtown of Budapest) and enables local governments to designate further “homeless-free” zones.
After the activists formed a living chain around the chairs of municipal representatives, István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest first suspended the assembly for a couple of hours, and then ordered a closed meeting. Shortly afterwards, the nonviolent protestors were forcibly removed from the building by the police. The majority of the council later voted for a modified version of the local ordinance regarding the penalization of homelessness.
During the sit-in, the protestors chanted poems, and read the European Social Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights out loud along with the following text:
We came here today because in March the government changed the Fundamental Law to enable the criminalization of homelessness. In rhis way, it went against the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which had declared earlier that the criminalization of homelessness is unconstitutional. As the court stated, no one should be punished for having to stay in public space and homelessness is not a criminal, but a social issue.
We came here today, because in October the government modified the Petty Offences Act, which made homelessness a petty offence in the whole downtown of Budapest punishable with public work, fine and incarceration.
We came here today, because today the Budapest City Council will vote on a new local ordinance, which would largely expand the areas in Budapest where homelessness is punishable.
We came here today, because the local governments in Budapest are designating more and more ‟homeless-free” zones where homeless people are not allowed to live.
We came here today, because we find every measure that is created against homeless people and not for them unacceptable. We find every measure that is against the principles of the rule of law, human dignity and solidarity unacceptable.
We agree with the Constitutional Court that removing homeless people from public spaces is not a legitimate reason for the criminalization of homelessness.
It is unconstitutional for the state to use punitive measures to force homeless people to use social services.
The exclusion, discrimination and removal of homeless people from public spaces do not solve the situation of people without a home, but make it even more difficult.
We came here today because we believe that all human beings are created equal; we believe that we owe responsibility to each other, and we believe that homelessness is not the crime of homeless people, but the consequence of an unjust social order.
We want to live in a country, in a city where the government and the city council do not work on the exclusion, stigmatization, and criminalization of homeless people, but where the government and the city council work on providing a home for every citizen.
We want to live in a country, in a city where fairness, justice, and freedom are not just words, but the principles of public policy.
We came here today to demand that István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest withdraw the proposal which would enable the harassment of homeless people by the authorities and that he create a housing strategy, which provides homeless people with access to affordable housing and prevents indebted families from becoming homeless. For this, the amount of housing assistance should be raised, an extensive network of social housing should be developed and fair wages and fair pensions should be guaranteed.
All human beings are created equal!
Housing, democracy, rule of law!
Long live the republic!