The weather is probably slightly higher than it was this time last year,but the difference in degrees is lost upon the homeless men and women we encounter daily on the streets of Paris.
The struggle for survival, I imagine, becomes more intense at this time of the year as the weather takes a nasty turn for the worse – and as the already limited choices for shelter from the cruel elements become even more limited.
I came across this report from last winter which provides a glimpse into the homelessness dilemma in the city:
Encouragingly, though, French authorities have been sensitive to the plight of the homeless in the past. Last year, the defense ministry opened up military training centres across the country to provide beds to hundreds of homeless men and women in the face of heavy snowstorms.
At city level, the “Mairie” has allocated hundreds and thousands of Euros targeted at various interventions for the homeless – ranging from food distribution schemes to the provision of shelter. A few weeks ago, Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, promised to invest in “concrete actions” to alleviate the plight of the homeless particularly during this winter that is right in the middle of an economic crisis. Given his strong track record as mayor, his promises are credible.
Various Non-Governmental Organisations are also actively engaged with one aspect or the other with regard to ‘Sans Domicile Fixe'(SDF) – the commonly used term here for the homeless. These range from those specifically concerned with drawing attention to their health and physical wellbeing (such as the “Collectif Les Morts de la Rue – http://www.mortsdelaru.org -which works on tackling the causes for death among the homeless) to organisations that assist with providing shelter and food.
Restos du coeur seems like a good cause – and provides an option to donate to their massive food program that has served over a million meals this past year, on the “Faire un Don’ button on the website for their 27th winter time campaign.
Yet, for many of the people I have spoken to, and the articles I’ve come across – there is a deeper structural problem (well, isn’t there always?). And, in the case of Paris, some people seem to see it as a political one. An enforced right to housing is necessary, they seem to argue: and, at the moment the legislative frameworks and political will are inadequate.
The statistics are worth noting. According to the national institute of statistics, over 250,000 people were ‘left homeless’ during the first ten years of the 2000s. The problem also extends to people who live under very poor living conditions, because they do not have the right to housing provided by the state or due to other circumstances.
The Foundation Abbé Pierre, concerned with the poor living conditions of some of the homeless is actually running a campaing at the moment and looking for 400,000 signatures.The goal, according to my limited understanding of French, seems to be one of compelling politicians to create laws that would help make access to decent living conditions more feasible for the city’s and France’s homeless – or at least, for them to engage with the issue.
Now, this is of course a French public policy issue, and as a visitor it technically is none of my business. But,I must say it is good to know that there are opportunities to do something – whether through a donation to Restos du Coeur or by adding a name to the decent housing campaign (linked below!). I should also say that the 400,000 name initiative seems to be perfectly timed, seeing as elections are due for May next year.
Link to petition is here.