Hungarian government argues with mayor over homeless hospital
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s right-wing government and liberal leaders in the country’s capital are engulfed in a dispute over a homeless hospital that may soon be forced to close.
The hospital provides medical care, social services and shelter to more than 1,000 people each year. Equipped with nearly 75 beds, state-of-the-art facilities, a temporary home and outpatient care, it is the only hospital of its kind in Budapest, which suffers from a high rate of homelessness.
Yet the Hungarian government has ordered the Methodological Center for Social Policy Budapest, which runs the city-funded hospital, to vacate the public building the facility occupies, creating uncertainty for the hundreds of people receiving treatment there. and a clash with the capital’s liberals. mayor.
“If there is no alternative site, we are not moving. They can send the police after us, they can remove us by force, but we are not leaving alone, ”Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony told The Associated Press.
Karacsony, an outspoken opponent of Hungary’s central government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, says he has spent months asking government officials to allow the hospital to remain in place or to move to another suitable building.
The office of Andrea Mager, Hungary’s minister without portfolio for the development of public assets, told the AP that an unspecified health-care institute would be moved into the property, and that the government in Budapest “had known for almost one year that the building … will be renovated, (but) has taken no substantive measures to relocate ”the hospital.
After extending the deadline, the government now says the hospital has until June 30 to move.
Dr Franciska Csortos, head of hospital care at the hospital, said the Hungarian public health authority requires homeless patients in need of chronic care to be treated in approved facilities that can provide specialist medical care.
But the only other such facility in Budapest is full, she said, meaning her 75 patients and more than 150 people staying at the facility’s temporary hostel would have nowhere to go if the hospital had to leave the building.
“(The patients) are in such dire need of hospital care. We cannot release them to temporary shelters, ”Csortos said.
With Hungary’s healthcare system already overburdened with the nearly 9,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, allowing homeless patients to return to the streets could have fatal consequences, Karacsony said.
“We just won’t leave these people to their own devices. We would not send them to the streets, but to their death, ”said the mayor.
The Hungarian government has long taken a hard-line approach to homelessness. After the courts overturned two laws banning sleeping on the streets, the ruling Fidesz party used its two-thirds majority in parliament to pass a constitutional amendment in 2018 that criminalized “habitual residence in public space.”
The police can issue citations to homeless people and force them to perform community service. Someone found sleeping in a public place three times may be imprisoned.
Dora Papadopulosz, spokesperson for From Streets to Homes, a Budapest-based housing rights organization, said the decision to evict the hospital was part of a trend in anti-homeless policies. shelter adopted by the Orban government which, in his opinion, reflect a social agenda. which favors the middle and upper classes while ignoring the needs of the poor.
“If members of the government think it is right to bring the homeless to jail, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they just don’t care about the most vulnerable people in society,” said Papadopulosz.
In a 2020 report, the non-profit housing association Habitat For Humanity estimated that around 3 million people in Hungary suffer from housing poverty, defined as people in debt who have difficulty paying monthly rent. , people who live in overcrowded or very poor quality apartments, or those who have difficulty paying household bills. Some estimates put the number of homeless people in the country at 30,000.
To add to the tension, rent prices in Hungary rose 60% between 2007 and 2019, but wages have not kept pace, according to Eurostat, the official statistical office of the European Union.
Andrea Toth, who is being treated at the evicted hospital, said she and other patients were unsure of where they would go if the facility were to move, but she hopes the mayor will make sure they are there. ‘shelter.
“We don’t know what the end result will be. All we know is that no one is going out on the streets. Gergely Karacsony said it himself, ”Toth said. “The government has not promised anything. Their motto should be “Live and let live”.
Justin Spike, The Associated Press