Our group visited homeless service provider of Budapest Municipality and we weren’t ready for this experience. Homelessness is a big problem in Hungary with over 50 percent of its homeless population (over 11 thousand) residing in Budapest. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason why but this visit stirred a lot of different emotions.
It was raining when we arrived in front of this 14 floor high building with some of its residents smoking cigars in front of it. Our guide welcomed us in the lobby and gave us a quick tour. Before entering the elevator, I remember seeing some old people to the left and a ping pong table in the distance. 14 th floor right away, first left, then another left and we found ourselves in one of the rooms. A bed with some sheets on it, a wardrobe ready to burst out and a lot of different belongings scattered all across the room. “Couples occupy this floor”, the guide said. Without much thought we exited the room and continued our journey. One communal bathroom and a room with a washing machine later we were coming down the stairs.
Methodological Centre of Social Policy
The building itself contributed to this feeling of unease which we sensed right from the start, no colour just brick, simple and pretty clean but in a way that some old, well governed but run-down hospitals are clean. Another room, four beds, wardrobes, a TV, but this time there was this pleasant looking old lady inside it. She and a guide chitchatted some words and we waived hello. It felt like it’s an everyday thing for her, people coming inside her room, looking around and quickly exiting. I couldn’t take yet another more room and we didn’t, we continued straight to the head office located on some other floor. Three social workers as we later learned were sitting around this big table surrounded with chairs, some treats and drinks were on it, neatly arranged, which elevated my mood a little, these people put up the effort in welcoming us. We introduced each other and sat down occupying only half of the table. Like almost every first meeting the conversation was shy in the beginning.
-This building is one of 18 other buildings scattered all around Budapest.
-Currently there is 147 people living in it, maximum capacity is 150.
…silence.. thinking about what to ask them..
-Is the building governmentally or privately owned?
-Local government is the owner.
-Are there any young people living inside it?
-Yes, by young people we consider people under the age of 25.
As we were getting more comfortable with the dynamics of the group we learned about their work, their mission and their relationship with the residents. A guy suddenly comes into a room..
-Ah, this is Benny, he also works here.
-Pleased to meet you.
-Pleased to meet you.
Benny was this relatively young guy, with blond hair and glasses, the atmosphere livened even more with his arrival.
-Are there friendships happening, between you guys and the residents?
–Yes, working together, social events?
–Ah, friendships… no, said this guy how seemed like he was in charge.
Silence… Benny breaks it:
-The nature of social work is like that, a wall between us and them has to exist.. it’s easier like that, you avoid potentially messy situations.
Our group nodded acknowledging the thought. I found myself looking down on the floor and seeing thousands of miniature black chair-marks imprinted from all the sitting down and standing up from this huge table. It was as they formed a picture, a collage of small ripples pulsing away from the work centre.
-How much time are the residents allowed to stay?
-Yes, that’s one of the biggest problems, they can stay for one year first and then they can prolong their stay for another year, and that’s it. After that they can’t come back anymore.
-How many of them solve their housing problem during that period?
-Very few, maybe 10 percent.
The group looked bleak… ,,What else to ask?” was probably the question on everyone’s mind.
-How do you see the future of this situation, will things get better?
-Things are bad at the moment and in my opinion they will only get worse, said this blond-woman who looked like she knows what she’s saying. Soon after, we ran out of questions and it was time for the goodbyes.
I am writing this post now and it is time for the big finish but I still don’t understand what had happened over there. On our way back home I was talking to Sopo, a girl from our group.
-This was a strange experience Sopiko, I feel bad.
-In what way?
-I am not sure, I have to think about it some more.