City: Budapest, Hungary
A Város Mindenkié (The City is For All) is a grassroots organisation mainly composed of homeless people fighting for their rights and dignity.
Holding Organisation : A Város Mindenkié (The City is For All) Status : Independent self-organisation People involved in the project : Over 60 people Creation Date : 2009 Sources & Links : http://avarosmindenkie.blog.hu/
Interview with a member of the group:
A Város Mindenkié (The City is For All) is a grassroots organisation where each member is a volunteer. It fights for the rights of homeless people and the right to housing. Its aim is also to enable homeless people to be self-organised. The majority of its members are homeless, have experienced homelessness at one point or struggle with housing problems.
The local context
The group materialised in response to the harmful situation that homeless people have been suffering in Hungary. The transition from socialism to capitalism in Hungary led to a huge increase in homelessness with no social housing policy being put in place. The State’s answer has been the provision of shelter but this is not the solution as those who pass through the shelter system have very little chance to ever get access to safe and affordable housing.
The starting point
A Város Mindenkié was formed out of a group that operated between 2004 and 2008 and that was working on issues related to homelessness. The name of the group was Man on the Street and its members were mostly middle-class young people. No homeless people were directly involved in it. After Man on the Street dissolved, some of its members had the idea to create a group in which homeless people were directly present in order to activate synergies between people who are affected by homelessness and middle-class activists. The City is for All took its inspiration from “Picture the Homeless” in New York (http://www.picturethehomeless.org/), a group that was founded and is led by homeless people. The latter organisation held a training session in Hungary in 2009 that actually gave birth to A Város Mindenkié.
How does it work?
A lot of activities are on-going but the three main areas are the following: a) Advocacy concerning homeless services, the way they work and the rights of homeless people using them; b) Actions concerning housing, which includes long-term campaigns and advocacy; c) Support for homeless people living in public spaces, which includes legal support (Streetlawyer program) and community organizing. At the moment, street homelessness is one of the main focuses of the group because of the current political context in Hungary where homeless people are constantly under attack by the government. Through advocacy work and campaigns, the group tries to push people to understand that homelessness is a problem of all and that long-term solutions are needed instead of criminalization and stigmatization.
Participation and Governance
There is no formal membership in the group, and anyone can become a member after they have attended at least 3 meetings. Also, as the group promotes the participation of homeless people, it is easier for them to become members than for others. Many volunteers contribute to A Város Mindenkié, such as lawyers, translators, etc. but they do not take a direct part in the decision-making process. Strictly speaking, there are around 60 members of the group, but a lot of other people support and contribute to its actions. With regards to the decision-making process, the group has many rules to ensure real democracy. We mainly work on a consensus basis and we encourage personal and communal awareness , e.g. we ask those who speak more to consider those who speak less, we give special attention to gender balance and we try to give voice to people that are voiceless, such as the Roma, by putting them at the front. We also function with small working groups but the decisions are always taken by the assembly that meets every Monday. This is what we call “slow participation”: we focus a lot on the process, which can render it slow and sometimes frustrating, but it also facilitates the participation of those to whom the floor is rarely given in the broader society.
Added value of the project
This is the first group in Hungary that does not treat homeless people as “clients”, but as citizens. We believe that poor and homeless people can make decisions not only concerning themselves but also for the benefit of everyone. We have formed active solidarity with many other excluded social groups such as gays and lesbians, refugees and the Roma. The City is for All is the first group in Hungary to be formed by homeless people.
One of the main challenges is that in today’s Hungary homelessness is not being addressed as a societal problem. The current government is implementing a very oppressive policy against people who are homeless. They are being criminalised, they are being put into jail or chased away simply for not having a home. At the moment, it seems that the more we try to promote positive social change and organise ourselves, the more revengeful the government gets. This tendency can only be changed with a change of government. Internally, our challenge is to empower people who have nothing and to encourage them to engage in political work. It is not always easy to recruit new members when the main concern of our social base is to cope with daily difficulties. On the other hand, it is also difficult to push people of the middle class to work with homeless people on an equal footing. Another difficulty is to develop homeless leadership, i.e. to make a homeless person accepted as leader by other homeless people. Unfortunately, they do not always support one another. In general, one of the main problems in Hungary today is the lack of mass grassroots activism and the difficulty to mobilise and empower people. Most Hungarians are not interested in political engagement. However, we don’t give up and we work very hard to mobilize the poorest citizens of Hungary to stand up for their own rights and for social rights in general.