Dear Reader! You’re currently reading the first article of a three-part series, which has been made to raise awareness: care for our fellow human beings!Be it the homeless, or sick children, elderly people, or people who were forced to flee from their home that had become a war zone, and who are moving towards Western Europe through Hungary. They are just like us after all. They may need help, and we’d be glad to receive right support, were we in their place. However, to see when someone is in trouble, we need to pay attention and care. I’ll show how I and the people in my immediate environment have been doing it in the last few months/years. Written by Noémi Szabó.
A few years ago, one of my best friends and I came up with the idea of “sacrificing” Christmas Eve for a good cause. Our plan was to give “salon candy” to people living in the street. And we did so!
“A total of 10,206 homeless people took part in the so-called 3rd February survey in 2016. 3,968 lived in Budapest, and 6238 lived in rural towns.”
We encounter the issue of homelessness day by day (especially those living in big cities are exposed to it), but this problem doesn’t only manifest on national level, it’s present throughout the world, waiting for a solution. People’s attitudes are varied: there are those who empathize with them and who would be happy to be able to help; there are those who despise them and want them out of sight so they don’t have to deal with the problem, and there are those who regard them as people and see the potential (the potential to help them and the potential in them, in these human beings deserving better lives).
“According to The City Is for All group’s data about homeless night shelters (i.e. free of charge, only for an overnight stay) in Hungary, there were 4350 places available during the summer of 2015, and 5734 places during the winter. 12,447 individuals have visited these establishments in a year.”
Sometimes a scary sight awaits us in underpasses or squares: our fellow human being “habitually residing” here, packed in smaller or larger groups, reminding us of how vulnerable we are. How easy is for anyone to slip into this seemingly irreversible life situation due to a bad decision, an illness that makes it impossible to work, or any other tragedy. For anyone, really, anyone (who doesn’t have a family or close friends who can help) can get to the point of losing his/her job, not being able to pay the bills, and finally getting kicked out of his/her apartment or sublease.
“Regarding transitional shelters (i.e. establishments providing longer-term housing for a fee), there were 5430 places available in summer, 5780 places in winter, and 9,035 individuals have used these establishments in a year.”
Well, such thoughts started our discussion about setting aside our comfort and selfishness, and spending Christmas Eve with the less fortunate instead of our loved ones. Two 150 cm tall girls can’t do much, we aren’t rich, we don’t have inexhaustible resources to give to these people. We could only offer our attention, a minute of kindness. So we went to the store, bought a few kilos of salon candy, and awaited December 24 to celebrate this wonderful day with a noble act.
“Long-term housings (establishments providing long-term accommodation for old, ill homeless people) had 460 places available in summer, 444 in winter, serving 606 people overall. Homeless rehabilitation establishments offered 246 places during the year, used by 387 individuals.”
The day and the afternoon came and we set off – dressed warm, each of us carrying a canvas bag with mixed flavour candy. We offered our present to the drivers of the holiday bus service, too, as they were also contributing to the realization of our plan.We knew we should visit the large junctions of the city, assuming that that the places where many people gather on weekdays would also be busy at Christmas. And we were right, they were there. Fortunately, I can say that there were less homeless people around compared to any other day. We hoped it’s because more of them would go to homeless shelters, or, better still, because they have someone (family, friends) to visit. Even so, there were still too many people living in public places whom we could offer candy.
Their reactions were mixed, maybe they’re not used to people going up to them and offering something. Most were happy to have a chat with us, they didn’t complain, they just wished us a Merry Christmas, just as we did. There were some who didn’t even get up to our greeting, they didn’t care or were just sleeping, but we still left them a few pieces of candy. Some were frightened, they didn’t understand the situation, they were looking for hidden or non-hidden cameras around us, and asked us if we’re from Crime News :) I still hope they felt good about being treated as human beings, and being approached in a friendly way instead of contempt.
“Day centers for homeless people offered 7592 places in summer and 7598 places in winter, used by 30,157 clients throughout the year.”
We again went to hand out candy the following year. We closed the “project” with mixed feelings, too, since bitter people were often unwelcoming. Sometimes we were disdained for giving “this little”, they didn’t appreciate the small gesture. I understand, of course, that this isn’t a great help to them, but it wasn’t our goal to change the world. All in all: for us it was a useful experience, thought-provoking and terrifying at the same time (I’m sorry we couldn’t do more then and there). But it’s clear that we didn’t continue despite the fact that in the beginning we were determined to make a habit out of it. Instead, favouring our own comfort, we spend our Christmas Eves in the warmth of our homes, and we’re trying to be useful to our homeless fellow human beings in other ways. For example, I often buy Fedél nélkül (“Without a Roof”, a magazine distributed by homeless people) from official vendors, and I support some of the panhandlers – especially those who offer self-made items in return, play music, sing, or those whom I already know and sympathize with.
I’m interested in sensitizing events such as “Step into my living room! – an urban walk through the eye of the homeless”.
Step into my living room! (website)
According to the KSH’s (Hungarian Central Statistical Office) census of 2011, 4520 homeless men and 1051 homeless women lived in Hungary in the same year.
This is a free event (though the guide accepts donations offered to him at the end) organized regularly by the Shelter Foundation, as part of the First-Hand about Homelessness program. I learned about the event through the foundation’s facebook page. Registration is necessary to clarify the number of participants.
This tour brings our attention to the fact which easily escapes our attention: by roaming the streets we step into the “homes” of the homeless.
We met at Fővám Square: we, the inquirers, Krisztián Dudás, a foundation associate, and József Ormódi – Dodi -, a former homeless person, whom the foundation helped in many ways already: accommodation, employment as a vendor at Fedél nélkül, participation in various social programs.
This extraordinary urban walk consists of Dodi showing us over the main venues of his life, telling us not only about living in the streets but also his story from before (he comes from a wealthy family, he had a wife, he has children). He presents the steps of his homelessness: how he went from being a beggar to being an honest newspaper vendor. He told us about his living conditions (For example, where to go to the toilet if one is living in the street, since most public toilets are paid?) and how they circumvented the law prohibiting habitual residence in public places. He listed those who helped him, and of course those who took advantage of his helpless situation. I’m not telling all the details because it’s much more interesting to learn all of these coming from him, and of course his presentation is more authentic than mine as well :)
Then we got a glimpse into the foundation’s daily work by taking us to an apartment where the staff operates a 24 hour emergency line and offer help to the indigent. Here, Krisztián showed us how the help system of the Shelter Foundation is structured, what kind of accommodations they operate (night shelters free of charge, but only for overnight stay after waiting in long queues, and paid transitional shelters with four beds per room), what services they offer, and what kind of events they organize. He talked about the foundation’s Sarokház (“Corner House”) program, during which they moved twelve homeless people to a detached house for ten months, helping them find a job and trying to facilitate their reintegration into society.
A thought-provoking event that offers useful information. I’d like to encourage you to join such a walk if you have a chance, it’s worth it!
You can read part 2 here.
Source of featured image: flickr.com
Translation by Ádám Hittaller.