ABSTRACT

Introduction In this chapter I would like to describe an issue that has been widely discussed in Hungary by academics, politicians, police officers and police chiefs, social workers, local governments, the Constitutional Court of Hungary and by the members of the public, during the course of the last few years, namely the criminalisation of homelessness in Hungary. This topic has generated a very intense debate among the aforementioned groups, in which all the sides presented very different and strong opinions. I believe it also serves as a perfect illustration of the trend of addressing incivilities through the blurring of the boundaries between criminal and civil/administrative law that seems to be an increasing tendency across Europe. Millie (2008: 380) noted the blurring of the boundaries between criminal and anti-social behaviour. Attempting to handle something that is exclusively a social problem with the tools offered by the criminal law leads, moreover, to the blurring of the boundaries between criminal and social policy law. The policing of homelessness is a very striking example. As pointed out by Stuart (2014), the study of such policing can be a very important source for understanding the changes in urban governance and social control. Examining the trends and tools of regulating visible poverty as a form of public incivility can tell us a lot about tolerance and concern for the vulnerable members of a specific society, and homelessness lies at the intersection of these two phenomena. How the lawmakers react to visible poverty can inform us about their standpoints on the uses of social policy and about the responsibility of the state – and the society, in general – for its members who happen to be in need. The way lawmakers address the conduct or the phenomenon we refer to as public incivilities shows us the way they think about differences (whether these be cultural or lifestyle differences) and their place in public spaces, in other words whether lawmakers think it is tolerable to use public spaces in many different ways, not all of which may be considered usual by the standards of mainstream society. This chapter discusses the criminalisation of homelessness in Hungary, the events that led up to the infamous change of the Constitution (‘Fundamental Law of Hungary’) and the current legislative background regarding this issue. It also highlights some of the possible underlying reasons and consequences of such changes.