[Hpn] Hungary Offers Homeless A New Life
William C. Tinker
Sun, 30 Jan 2005 03:06:44 -0500
Hungary offers homeless a new life
Sun Jan 30, 2005
By Andras Gergely
Tarnabod, Hungary (Reuters) - Under communism Ilona Harasztosi and thousands
of homeless Hungarians like her did not officially exist and so there was no
need to help them.
In the old days being homeless meant you were either a criminal or a
non-entity who could be jailed, transported or dumped in the countryside as
the communist state saw fit.
That's why Hungarians may at first be suspicious of a state-sponsored scheme
to help those sleeping rough in Budapest subways and camping out in rags
among the hills around the capital to a new life in the countryside.
One of the European Union's most developed new member states is trying a
pilot scheme to tackle the now official problem of homeless people by
sending some of them from Budapest to live in the poor eastern village of
At the height of the communist dictatorship before the 1956 uprising, the
government moved thousands of people to the countryside for political and
But comparisons with the old days stop there.
Those participating in the scheme are few in number and move voluntarily.
They are each given homes to live in, a job and some of the fixings needed
to put food on the table. Tarnabod, a village of 850 people, also gets
priority for state aid.
"We get everything, seeds, tools, animals, this is an amazing opportunity
for a family to move up a bit," said 44-year-old Harasztosi, who until
December raised her two children in an institution for homeless mothers in
FREEZING TO DEATH
The joint pilot scheme of the government, the Order of Malta and a local
charity is starting with 10 homeless families. It is a small, but
significant step towards addressing the needs of Hungary's 40,000 homeless
In exchange for becoming Hungary's first "Host Village", Tarnabod residents
are invited to take part in the work creation programme for the new
arrivals, and the community receives perks such as a minibus and a movie
Hungary is trying to address social issues neglected during 40 years of
communism, which have been exacerbated by the shift to a market economy.
There are only about 7,000 places in homeless shelters around Hungary. Up to
300 people freeze to death every winter.
The project in Tarnabod is part of a larger scheme launched last October,
which also includes a call centre to match homeless people to vacant beds in
shelters, a dedicated emergency vehicle for each county and new places in
Other villages may also host the homeless soon.
"If the project is successful ... It will become like a 'roadshow', going to
every village (to show) how to run a project like this in a small village,"
said Tarnabod Mayor Zoltan Peto.
Harasztosi got a job cleaning the headquarters of the Host Village project.
The municipality will hire around 50 others locally to look after the
elderly and to maintain local roads and buildings.
Initial worries that the government was forcibly moving people have changed
to concerns over how the countryside will cope if the capital exports some
of its problems, like crime and violence, to a countryside already
struggling with unemployment and weak infrastructure.
"Why should we add the troubles of homeless people to this heap of
problems?" asked sociologist Janos Ladanyi.
FEAR IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
But Tarnabod's Peto sees the scheme as an opportunity for the village to get
people off social security and into work in nearby factories.
"We cordially provide shelter for those in need, and in return we expect the
government to contribute to the development of our village," he said.
Colourful recycling containers around the village, a rarity even in more
prosperous regions, testify to Peto's claims that he has already got
national and EU grants to modernise Tarnabod, where 75 out of 220 families
live on meagre social security.
Village residents are divided over the project, some seeing the newcomers as
future good neighbours while others feel threatened and fear an increase in
"Why do they subsidise those who have never worked in their lives?" asked
Tiborne Pusoma, whose household has 14 people and an income of around
350,000 forints (99,000 pounds) a month, including the 62,000 forints she
gets from the job creation programme.
Amenities in Tarnabod are so basic that access to firewood for heating is a
major concern and seems to be one of the most frequent topics with which
locals turn to the mayor.
Even the movie club, funded by the 30 million forint "Host Village" project
and whose first evening featured the American cartoon hit "Shrek 2" is
heated by a tiny wood-burning stove.
Seeking to allay fears about a rise in crime, Peto said he planned to weed
out applicants who had become homeless as the result of their involvement in
crime and drugs.
"After working for 10 years as a policeman in Budapest, I know when someone
is lying," he said.
A team of social workers, psychologists and sociologists visit from Budapest
each week to monitor the project.
A government official in charge of the homeless said hundreds of thousands,
including many original residents of Tarnabod, would qualify as homeless if
standards in a prosperous Western country like Britain were applied.
In one instance, the mayor decided to allocate one of the houses in the Host
Village project to a local Tarnabod family after people complained that
their dilapidated houses were inferior to the ones being given to the