Oltatom Karitativ Egyesulet at Danko Utca
Outside a street shelter in Budapest, the homeless are gathering. People dressed in shabby clothes, many of them in an alarming physical or mental state, are carrying everything they own in plastic bags.
Every night, the Oltatom Karitativ Egyesulet on Danko Utca, in Budapest’s Eighth District, offers a sleeping place for around two hundred homeless people. This is the largest street shelter in Budapest. It is run by Ivaniy Gabor who is a methodist priest and Rector of the John Wesley Theological College in Budapest. In winter the number rises to two hundred and fifty, the maximum number of homeless people the shelter can handle. The winter of 2011 was devastating. Temperatures dropped to minus twenty degrees Celsius. The shelter’s infirmary was flooded with those waiting for treatment of frost bite. The sleeping area is filled with bunk beds and the smell of disinfectant. The shelter is poorly equipped, in need of a multitude of supplies and facilities, and fully dependent on the selfless generosity of volunteers who keep the place running by carrying out a medley of tasks involving cleaning up, cooking, washing and nursing.
Homelessness in Hungary is a burgeoning issue of staggering proportions. Exact figures of homeless people are not publicly available, but an estimate of ten thousand exists for homelessness in Budapest alone. The numbers of poor and jobless are rising dramatically due to the country’s economic crisis.
Scenes of people in Budapest sleeping rough on the streets and rifling through the contents of garbage cans searching for food or recyclable goods that can be sold, are no different from similar scenes found in major cities around the world. However, the similarities end there. The differences begin with Hungarian legislation which criminalises begging and sleeping on the streets and therefore punishable, making Budapest one of the worst places in Europe for the homeless.
Budapest, April 2012.