It is important not to judge people if you don’t know their life story. People become homeless for many different reasons. It can be the consequence of a financial crisis, an illness or addiction. The high number of homeless in Budapest poses a significant problem, and instead of penalising them perhaps it would be easier to fix the underlying problems. But in order to be able to do that, we need to listen to their stories.
While the reasons for becoming homeless are complex, the path is essentially the same: these people all find themselves in a situation where they can’t afford to maintain a home.
That’s what happened to Rita, one of many homeless in Budapest. She lived an ordinary life. Just two years ago she had a family, a decent salary in a textile factory. After her divorce, however, somehow everything stopped working. Rita lost her job, then her home, then all her savings and off to the streets she was.
Since then Rita spends the nights on park benches, in abandoned buildings or wherever she can find a place to get some rest. Her daily routine is collecting soda and beer bottles. Although she has two adult children she never asks for help, because after she became homeless she stopped communicating with them.
At first they tried to help her but she refused because of shame. “I know I could ask for their help but it is a shame to live on the street”. She also refuses to go to a shelter because she “heard a lot of terrible things about it”.
“Shelters are dangerous places. They are full of drugs and drug dealers. Another homeless can steal your belongings,” Rita says, but quickly adds that staying on the street also causes fear. The fear of freezing to death and not waking up in the morning. Despite that, she prefers to stay on the street. “I feel more comfortable on the street than at those shelters with unknown people.”
Before becoming homeless Ádám was a chef. It was not a well-paying job but he managed to make ends meet. Things got complicated when the place where he worked went bankrupt. After unsuccessfully searching for another job he didn’t have enough money to maintain a home and no one he could call for help.
That was 20 years ago and he has been sleeping on the streets since. “After becoming homeless, getting help became even more difficult. When you’re on the street, people just walk on by, they ignore you.”
Ádám says that finding a job became practically impossible for him. “A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to find a job if you are homeless. You can’t just up and get a job because it’s more difficult than that. Especially when you don’t have good hygienic conditions, nowhere to rest and a place to live.”
He did not give up hope completely and he still believes that everything is possible. Just a few days ago he met a social worker in order to get help.
Tamás was on the track to success. He had his own farm near Budapest. In the eyes of most people it was a successful and enviable life. Things got worse when he took out a loan from the bank and the crisis hit. He could no longer afford the payments and after the bank took everything, the street was the only remaining option for him.
He could go to his sister’s house but Tamás doesn’t want to be a burden on someone. So for the past six years he has spent his days collecting bottles and cans. Every day you can see him reading a book in Király utca. Sometimes he sells newspapers but the last week he helped in a house reconstruction. If there is any opportunity to get some money, he never refuses to take it.
He is optimistic. “Opportunities are everywhere, you just need to find it.”