Illegal Streets

In Hungary, living on the streets is against the law

When the coronavirus peaked in Europe in March, strict lockdown measures confined people to their homes. But for the homeless in Europe, “self-quarantine” hasn’t been an option and many continue to live on the streets.

Doctors worldwide have warned that homeless people are at a higher risk of catching, and dying from, the virus. For the most vulnerable, COVID-19 could lead to pneumonia, organ failure and death.

While shelters across Europe are trying to cushion the blow, in Hungary, the number of homeless people exceeds the number of shelters, forcing many of them back onto the streets. To make matters worse, since October 2018, Hungary’s constitutional law prohibits people from “living in public spaces”; anyone who fails to comply risks being arrested or even sentenced to prison.

Photographer Ilir Tsouko visited Hungary’s capital Budapest a few months before the pandemic hit the country to document the lives of the homeless. Tsouko invited rough sleepers in Budapest to a temporary studio to portrait their faces and capture their essence.

“A black background, a spotlight and my camera was the setting. To make them feel that they are important for what they are, I bought coffee and cigarettes and I put a small table in front of a chair where I invited them to sit and talk to me,” said Tsouko.

“I met homeless people here who wore clean jackets and shoes, and had well-groomed hair and watchful eyes. But I understood that the clean clothes served as camouflage. It’s their way to avoid being recognized as homeless.”

Photography by

Ilir Tsouko