Why this story matters:
This week, Hungarian city dwellers are expecting the first snowfall of the winter season. The nights are already quite chilly, with the temperature often below zero at dawn. To some it means snow fights, drinking mulled wine by the fire place and making a snowman. Others will be fighting for survival in the cold, as their only shelter is the streets.
The passersby are usually in a hurry on their way home. They hardly notice their fellow citizens who seek shelter under several blankets on the pavement.
A few years ago, the biggest cities banned the homeless from living on the streets. Most citizens backed this initiative. Even though they know it is not a solution, they literally prefer not to face the problem each day.
The unresolved problem of how to protect the Hungarian homeless comes up each winter. According to a study conducted last February, there were at least 10,000 people living on the streets across the country. However, experts claim that the real figures are much higher.
One of the key problems is that there is not enough space in the shelters for everyone. But more importantly, the government seems to ignore the issue.
Yes, passersby are not the only ones who prefer to look the other way. The state institutions have been doing everything in their power to keep the number of those who froze to death a secret.
What needs to be done? The temperature is not the only problem. Many shelters are not designed to host couples, which would be crucial. Not only due to the need for closeness, but because studies show that those who stick together have better chances of integrating back into society than singles.
Women are often disadvantaged. When trying to find a place, they face more obstacles than men. For example, in the city of Kaposvar, 20% of those living on the streets are women -- a number considered to be quite substantial. However, at the local shelter there are only 9 spots (!) for them, so approximately 50 other women need to survive on the streets. Cold is not their only enemy.
Details from the story:
- There are nearly 6,000 places in the country which shelter the homeless temporarily. More than half of these are located in the capital, Budapest.
- Usually, there are hundreds of people on the waiting lists of the shelters. The majority of homeless prefer the shelters of Budapest.
- Not only the homeless face the risk of freezing to death. Those who live alone or in extreme poverty devoid of resources to buy fire wood are in danger too. Last year, 80 people froze to death despite having a roof over their heads.
- According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, one fifth of the households use only firewood. During the winter season, it can cost up to 1,000 euros. To many people this is a fortune.