France: Issues Concerning Eradication on Rough Sleeping in Paris
Atittudes towards homeless people in France are complex. There are plenty of people who view them as a nuisance – an unsightly disturbance bringing down property prices, relying on hand-outs, and posing a vague, unformed threat.
But Prof Julien Damon, from the prestigious university, Sciences-Po, believes Paris is more tolerant and welcoming than London, for example.
“The French believe homelessness is a structural issue – it’s about unemployment, the housing market – that the individuals are not responsible for their situation. British people believe more that it comes from individual responsibility and addiction.”
When British people were asked about their views of homeless people by the polling agency YouGov four years ago, the biggest group (35%) said they believed that homeless people had “probably made bad choices in life that got them into their situation”.
France has the most extensive and comprehensive right to housing in the whole of the European Union, according to the EU’s federation of homelessness organisations, FEANTSA. But many illegal immigrants avoid accessing homeless services, for fear of alerting the authorities to their status. And since last month, that risk is being extended to emergency shelters under a new policy introduced by Emmanuel Macron’s liberal government. The change requires shelters to provide details of all those sleeping under their roof – allowing government officers to find and deport those who don’t have the right to be in France. The policy is sparking stiff resistance from homelessness organisations in France, but most of them are wholly funded by the state, and there’s a big question over whether they will win the argument.
During his election campaign, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of 2017. It wasn’t a promise he was able to keep.
But eradicating street homelessness is not as fantastical as it might seem, according to Eric Constantin of the Fondation Abbe Pierre. “With the right policies, the problem in the Paris region could be solved in five to 10 years,” he says. “Build homes, stop evictions, control rents and put in place a system that cares for people as they are.”
The French government has put money into expanding emergency shelters – there were 13,000 new shelter places opened this winter. But there are usually strict rules about entering them: no dogs, no couples, no alcohol. Some also refuse to take those with mental health issues.
It’s one reason why the government’s spokesman, Christophe Castaner, is right when he says that many rough sleepers choose not to use the shelter places available. Forced to separate from their partner or their dog, or overcome addiction or mental illness in order to secure a place, many refuse. But that’s not the same as wanting to remain on the street.
Eric Constantin, of Fondation Abbe Pierre, says that to solve the problem in the Ile-de-France region around Paris, 70,000 homes need to be built each year from 2010-2030, with half of these set aside for social housing. So far, that target has gone unmet for all but one year. Almost three-quarters of residents in the Ile-de-France region qualify for social housing, he says. “The French model is unique, but now it’s under threat, because the government thinks it should start to focus on the poorest of the poor – which is London’s approach.”