New legislation passed in October made it a criminal offence to sleep outside. Now the homeless are being fined, and jailed.

As reported by Euronews online, the government said the new law aims to provide proper living conditions for the homeless and has set money to help them. But campaigners say Hungary has three times as many homeless people than it does shelter places.

Vera Kovacs, who works at Hungary-based NGO From Streets to Home Association, told Euronews she fears it will lead to more people freezing to death.

Kovacs said the law had seen homeless people leave central areas of Budapest — where temperatures drop to as low as -10°C in winter — and live in forests on the edge of Hungary’s capital.

“We believe it’s very dangerous for homeless people that they feel that they need to hide, especially when it’s this cold,” she said.

Charity workers say before homelessness was outlawed they knew where to find and check on people.

But, by criminalising it, rough sleepers are hiding from authorities and it is harder to get help to them.

“If people feel that they need to hide then no-one can see if they are in danger of freezing,” added Kovacs.

“Criminalisation of homeless people does not work,” said Freek Spinnewijn, director of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA).

“You start by giving them a fine. They can’t pay. You give them another fine because they cannot pay the fine. In the end, they end up in prison. You cannot put them in prison for life so they will come out and probably be worse than when they went in. It’s a totally vicious circle.”

What does Hungary’s government say?

The government issued the following statement to Euronews: “Hungary’s homelessness ban is aimed at saving the lives of rough sleepers. The regulations are to prevent homeless people from freezing in public spaces in winter and to help those living in the street find homeless shelters. Homeless shelters are prepared for the winter season with a total of 19,000 beds, complete with facilities for personal hygiene and health services, 24 hours-a-day. Homeless facilities help clients to social services, clothing, (regular) jobs or participation in public works schemes, or training. It is obvious that the way out of homelessness is through these temporary shelters.”