Homelessness in Hungary just became a violation of the country’s constitution. An amendment made it illegal to sleep rough in the vicinity of cultural and other important sites, effectively making homelessness illegal in large parts of Budapest.

This means people who refuse to go to shelters will face enrolment in a compulsory work programme or jail. They may also have their belongings confiscated.

“The government has realised they can’t play the migrant card endlessly because there are obviously no migrants in the country. Migration issues can still be useful for national campaigns but for local issues they need a new scapegoat,” said Gábor Iványi, a Methodist priest who runs homeless shelters in Budapest’s eighth district.

As reported by The Guardian, activists fear the move could be the start of a political campaign against homeless people by the right-wing government of Viktor Orbán, which has previously focused heavily on the apparent threat posed to Hungary from refugees and migrants.

The homeless are a visible part of Budapest’s cityscape, sleeping in parks and underpasses. Iványi said the number of beds at shelters in the city was inadequate. One of his shelters has dozens of simple metal bed-frames crammed into each room. In winter, when the 130-bed shelter houses up to 300 people on some nights, yoga mats are spread on the floor.

Many homeless people say the city’s homeless shelters are so poor that they prefer to stay on the street.

In a separate report, Hungary Today online noted that the government is setting aside a reserve fund of 300m forints (€925,000) for homeless provision such as ensuring the operations of day and night shelters and 24-hour aid for the needy.

“From a humanitarian point of view, it is important to develop the institutions that provide for the homeless,” Attila Fülöp, the state secretary for social affairs and inclusion, told a press conference.

Additionally, seven tenders worth 650m forints have been won to upgrade institutions for the homeless across the country, he added.