Giovanni Zambello, IFRC Europe Zone office in Budapest
The disaster which engulfed a small Hungarian village in a tide of poisonous red sludge has captured the world’s attention in recent days, but there are other deeply-entrenched vulnerabilities that are pushing society’s poorest to the brink in the new EU nation.
Urban threats can put poor and homeless people at greater risk of ill health, can expose them to urban violence, as well as to extreme weather conditions, which can be especially critical during the severe Hungarian winters, when temperatures often drop below zero.
“We’ve never had our own place. It’s simply too expensive for us to afford,” explains Sandor, a homeless builder who lives in one of the two family shelters the Hungarian Red Cross runs in Csepel, in southern Budapest. “I don’t make enough money to have any savings, and breaking the vicious circle seems impossible. Nonetheless, even when everything looks hopeless, I keep hoping”.
Sandor and his wife Edit have stayed in the Red Cross shelter with their three children for over a year.
“After 1989, the economic situation in our country took a serious turn for the worse,” says Éva Moszt, who has been running the shelters since they were established in 1993. “I never thought things could get this bad, but they did. These facilities are an attempt by the Hungarian Red Cross to find a solution to the major problem of homelessness in this country, but, most of all, an attempt to prevent vulnerable people from entering the endless loop of poverty. Children raised by parents who rely on State care have extremely low, or no chances, to lead an independent life and take their place in society.”
Since 1997, the two shelters have focused on child protection, trying to keep families together in order to avoid children being placed under the care of the State.
“Every month, more and more families become homeless and, whatever problem takes them there, be it alcohol, drug abuse, divorce, or the loss of their jobs, we only want to make sure they have a roof over their heads and, little by little, help them break this cycle, by accompanying them on the way towards independent living,” continues Éva.
Out of the 100 people hosted in the two family shelters, 90 have never had stable housing. Sixty-six of them are children. A team of social workers, guided by the principle of ‘as little interference as possible’ in the affairs of the families, ensure the families are provided with health, social and legal care, while designing personalized care plans to improve their condition and reintegrate them into the social fabric.
In an urban environment the cycle of poverty can prove harder to tackle than in any other environment. The topic of ‘Urban risk for the new vulnerable groups in Central Europe’ is the main theme of a round table jointly organized by the IFRC Europe Zone Office and the Hungarian Red Cross on 13 October, on the occasion of the International Day for Risk Reduction.
“Urban risk reduction can only be achieved through support to people’s livelihoods, which means empowering vulnerable people to be self-sustaining and strengthening their resilience to the risks they face in their environment,” notes Slobodanka Curic, Disaster Management Coordinator in the IFRC Europe Zone Office.