Entering a homeless shelter is always an enlightening experience. Whether you have years of volunteering under your belt, or if it’s your first time, you can learn a few things about the people inside of them and the institution itself.
Tamás Szentkereszty, the director of the House of Condolences Homeless Shelters and Living Social Center – Miklos Street, explained the organization he works with, and helped our group, Journalism students studying abroad in Budapest, understand the various levels within the Hungarian homeless care system.
The Order of Malta
The Order of Malta rings in the ear like The Salvation Army or Red Cross, only it’s much older. The wide-reaching Roman Catholic order, founded to aid Christian soldiers fighting in The Crusades, has a presence in nearly every social field. In Hungary, it manifests itself in many ways, including services for the homeless.
The motto is, “Defense of the faith and assistance to the poor,” something that the House of Condolences utilizes years after its founding.
Szentkereszty said, “It’s not obligatory for our clients to have faith, but we still want to have the principles of Christianity.”
People within the shelter are offered services to familiarize them with Christianity — a priest regularly serves mass — but they are not required to accept. They are, however, expected to act in accordance to the Christian principles the shelter is based on.
The Order of Malta believes it is important not just to talk about Jesus, but to do something. These values carry the organization through each of its sects, especially in serving the homeless.
Along with the importance of The Order of Malta’s values, Szentkereszty also explained the steps within homeless shelters they provide to individuals.
Low-level homes offer the minimal amount of service. It is easier for individuals to get into a low-level shelter, and each person is offered a social worker and two weeks to assess what to do next.
The shelter we visited has a low-level women’s shelter. It can hold 19 women, most of whom are usually given mats to sleep on until they figure out where to go from there.
Night shelters are a level up. Within this particular shelter, they offer 50 beds, with three to four beds to a room. Because of high demand, an interview is done before accepting someone into the shelter to insure they are truly in need and to hear about their motivations.
“If someone doesn’t have any motivation to be in a better situation, it’s very hard for us to work with them,” said Szentkereszty.
Temporary shelters cost money and have a maximum of a one and a half year stay. The price can be around 10,000 Hungarian Forints (around 35 USD) per month.
The primary use for these shelters are for those who with an income, but are still considered homeless.
There are also shelters which are specific to different situations. They have sick shelters, for those who require medical attention. There are rehab facilities for those battling addiction, and what is known as a working shelter. In working shelters, if an individual does not make a steady income, they are required to leave.
The primary drive for homeless shelters and those working within them are to support people while they move toward getting jobs and homes. Szentkereszty says that the biggest successes come when someone who was homeless finds a job and home. However, there are smaller successes that they strive for daily.
“We need positive encouragement and influences,” Szentkereszty said. “Making them laugh and smile are smaller successes.”