Vienna homeless to pay for shelter as campaigning gets dirty

Vienna’s political leaders have been harshly attacked for their decision to ask homeless people to pay for staying at city-funded lodgings.Social Democratic (SPÖ) councillor Sonja Wehsely said today (Weds) homeless people would have to cough up four Euros for every night they spend at the capital’s subsidised emergency shelters from November.The councillor – whose party has an absolute majority in the city parliament – said the decision was part of the guaranteed minimum subsidy law which was recently agreed upon at federal level.Wehsely said only people applying for the new rule’s 774 Euros a month will have to pay for sleeping over at city-funded homes.The councillor claimed the changes would improve people’s situation.Wehsely explained the city government’s main target was to help people finding a permanent home as soon as possible.Greens councillor David Ellensohn said the announcement was “cynical”.Ellensohn announced: “This law will only make things worse for the poorest people of Vienna.”Referring to the late Social Democratic spearhead, he said: “So, this is supposed to be the famous socially conscious Vienna? Viktor Adler must be turning in his grave.”Wehsely’s announcements are seen as being a bid to win the support of more conservative Vienna residents in next month’s city election.The SPÖ is under threat of losing its majority, according to polls, and one of the pre-ballot key battles focuses on people planning to stay away from the booths on election day. Only six in 10 Viennese eligible to vote did so in the 2005 election when the SPÖ bagged 49.1 per cent – enough for a majority in seats.The Social democrats and the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) are set to battle it out for the support of the working class and people with an average income, while the People’s Party (ÖVP) hopes to become a “control authority” in a possible coalition with the SPÖ if the Social Democrats fail to retain their majority in seats.FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache has claimed the SPÖ did more for immigrants and people unwilling to work than for “hard-working, decent Austrians”. He promised his supporters to make changes in the social benefits system if he comes to power.The right-wing party is however not expected to be part of the next city government since the SPÖ rules out any kind of cooperation. The party of Mayor Michael Häupl is tipped to approach the ÖVP for coalition talks first if the two parties have a majority after the 10 October ballot, with the Greens as a possible alternative for a coalition government.Strache has accused the Social Democrats of having forgotten their old values. The controversial right-winger claimed he was the new hope for those forgotten and neglected by the political system. Referring to late Vienna SPÖ Mayors Leopold Gratz and Helmut Zilk, he said: “You must go for a walk at the Zentralfriedhof (cemetery) to find SPÖ mayors with a social conscience.”The FPÖ has come under fire for several campaign slogans some political rivals branded as “xenophobic”. One poster slogan called for “Mehr Mut für unser ‘Wiener Blut’ – Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut”, meaning “More Courage for our ‘Viennese Blood’ – Too much of the other doesn’t do any good for anyone.”It refers to an operetta by Johann Strauss – and soaring immigration figures.The campaign tempted hundreds of people opposing the FP֒s political views to donate blood in the summer when Viennese hospitals faced dramatic shortages.Strache was pressed to defend his campaign tactics and slogans. He stressed: “I have nothing against people who settle down here to work hard and integrate. This is not a question of ethnic background or culture.”Accused of agitating people with the “Wiener Blut” slogan, he said: “I think this slogan confirms our campaign is rather moderate. We want to win the support of the middle class.”This statement angered competitors who pointed out far-right Johann Gudenus was listed second behind Strache for the upcoming Vienna vote. Gudenus has been criticised by NGOs many times for using terms neo-Nazi groups understand as codes when speaking about cultural developments, migration and crime.The former head of the FP֒s federal youth organisation is regarded as the party’s “crown prince” and a possible successor of Strache.Analysts expect the FPÖ to garner around 20 per cent in the Vienna city parliament election while the Greens are tipped to suffer losses following the foundation of a rivalling movement called Echt Grün (Real Green) by influential ex-Green councillors in two districts.The Greens’ key campaign topics are a dramatic reduction of public transport ticket prices, a reform of the school system and a switch to climate-protecting energy sources.Meanwhile, pollsters recently dampened the ÖVP’s hopes for a significant improvement from 18.8 per cent in the election five years ago. The party, which came second in 2005 ahead of the FPÖ (14.8 per cent) and the Greens (14.6 per cent), claimed it would ensure a “fresh breeze” will rattle current political circumstances in the city parliament after the ballot which may also have an impact on federal developments.Federal state secretary Christine Marek took over as Vienna ÖVP boss only some months ago. She recently caused outcry by suggesting people out of work for more than six months should be forced to work for charities like Caritas or sweep the streets.Marek also said the long-term unemployed should have their subsidies slashed if they refused to accept offered work.The ÖVP Vienna chief was criticised by SPÖ officials who claimed the current rulings ensured lazy and inflexible people would receive less financial support than those willing to work.But NGOs stress it would be more important to signal to the poor and unemployed that they could always be sure of getting support, trust and understanding.