The Shelter Foundation was founded in 1990 with the purpose of helping homeless people in Budapest. The shelter was founded by five organisations, the Metropolitan Council’s Executive Committee, which was the forerunner of the Metropolitan Municipality. Other founders included The Újpest Family Help Centre, Charitable Protection Association, Fund for the Poor and the Committee for Homeless Affairs. The running of the shelter began at 3 Vajdahunyad street in the VIII district in a building that had been used as a military barrack under communism. This was in January 1990. Discussing the homeless had only just begun and there were no guidelines or laws to guide institutions seeking to help the homeless.

At that time, the most obvious ways to solve homelessness was providing accommodation. At the Vajdahunyad street headquarters we opened a hostel which is still working today. The hostel opened in 1990 with a few simple beds. We soon realised that providing temporary accommodation was only a short-term solution, and although saving people’s lives, it wasn’t enough in itself for the homeless to actually turn their lives around. We began to understand that homelessness was a much bigger and more complicated problem. We tried to help the homeless in whatever way we could but interestingly our work was made more difficult by those living in the hostel. The residents of the hostel instinctively tried to adapt to life inside the hostel and not to the kind of independent life where they looked for work and accommodation for themselves.   

As a result, in a few months time we opened a client service centre in an old communist building behind Füvészkert. The centre was for those homeless people who did not want to stay in the hostel but who opted to stay out on the street or who were given shelter by friends or relatives. We listened to everybody who came to see us and tried to help everyone individually. Our aim was to try and make life more bearable for those on the street and to help others avoid becoming homeless.  

In most cases we had to help to replace important documents. We also helped people obtain unemployment benefits, pension and other aid. We found temporary accommodation, provided clothing. We often provided financial support to those who had found work but had not yet received their first pay.

Over time one floor at the Vajdahunyad hostel was dedicated to elderly and special case residents. Everyone there receives individual attention (everybody had and has today a social worker to assist them) and we also provide full board. In the hostel’s main area we decided not to keep it open for 24 hours as we noticed people were starting to think and behave in a “social institution” type of way (like in orphanages, barracks or prisons) which inhibits independent problem solving. Since then the hostel’s main area is open from 6 at night until 7 in the morning and is able to accommodate 50 men overnight. This was the prototype for not only the standard but the legal way of running night shelters. In the past there was also a house with a key at the back of the main building for those who were constantly employed. During the winter months there is a “recovery” room for homeless people who are sick or weakened.       

By the mid-nineties the Práter street daytime shelter, the Dispatcher Service and the Mádi street (at that time Auróra street) client service centre were established and these all still function today. In the following years we focused on fine-tuning our existing services, although important events did take place. We aimed to tackle each problem with a fresh approach and not from a routine “shelter perspective”. This “individual approach” methodology has been followed throughout the years and is passed on to newer colleagues. . 

The Dispatcher Service started off as a simple information hotline but has since evolved into something that helps social workers on the street as well as coordinating differing bodies. Laws brought into effect after the service was introduced stated that a dispatcher service needs to be in place in all regions of the country and our institution provided the model for these. From the late nineties onwards the Dispatcher Service provided the shelter with the most popular and the most widely used service: The Crisis Car. Our Práter street daytime shelter was also a pioneer in programs of its kind.        

We have had many residents, clients and volunteers over the years. Because a significant number of homeless people came to us for assistance and many events relating to homeless people happened in our circles, we knew that we had to be the ones to coordinate all those who were also working to help the homeless. 

Behind Füvészkert in the once Illes street communist office we have our current client service centre. In the Kürt street shelter we have registered thousands of homeless people. Up to 50 people can sleep the night at the shelter and since opening, the shelter has provided over 7000 nights of accommodation for the homeless in Budapest. 

The magazine Fedél Nélkül (“Without a Roof”) was part of the movement to empower and motivate homeless people to help themselves and to express themselves. A former homeless person himself, Tibor Ungi was the founder. With the help of the Homeless Foundation, Tibor formed a group of homeless people who were interested in commenting on what was going on around them. The magazine has been in existence since the mid nineties and homeless people are responsible for writing, reproducing and distributing it within the framework of the foundation. During this time two books have been published containing works of  Fedél Nélkül contributors and they have held speeches and exhibitions also.   

The help of volunteers was a significant milestone for the Homeless Shelter and this very important contribution continues to this day. Since the turn of the century we have also contributed to research and development in the areas of homelessness and social work.  We organise the city’s winter crisis services. Our employees have long been members of the “Tízek Tanácsa” (“Council of Ten”) which is a democratically elected body representing the rights of the homeless.    

Whilst sticking to our founding principles the foundation evolves from year to year. In 2006 the foundation opened a daytime “warming room” which due to its size allows for 700 lockers allowing for a one-of-a-kind storage facility. In place of the Mádi street office in 2009 we opened a homeless shelter complex and client service centre on Konyes Kalman ringroad.   

Due to the donations that we receive each year, we are able to feed more people on the street. In one year we feed hundreds of homeless people a warm meal at least once every day.

The research and development team in 2000 started to provide legal representation to homeless people, and this service is available till this day. They were the first to conduct a national study in Hungary about the situation of the homeless and about the number of people living on the streets. Their methods allowed them to compare statistics with other big cities around the world.

Since 2005 eight NGOs use the Szentkirályi street office, which has long stood empty. This space was secured through a grant from the Treasury. This office houses the Város Mindenkié (“The City is Everyone’s) organisation which is a self organised group of homeless people. This is also where the permanent exhibition entitled “We Are” by the Association of Homeless Artists can be seen.