Paris, France (GVO) – There are many preconceived ideas about the lives of the homeless in France. The most widespread amongst them are as follows:
- “It’s a declining trend in France.”
The total number of homeless people in France (excluding refugees in the camps in Calais) is difficult to estimate, but the FNARS, a national organisation for social inclusion and re-insertion, estimates the figure to be between 150,000 and 240,000 people. The Fondation Abbé Pierre, a homeless charity based on the benevolence of its namesake, a 20th century Catholic priest, estimates that there are 50% more homeless people in France than three years ago — including 30,000 children.
- “To be homeless is an active choice.”
A study shows that only 6% of homeless people choose to live on the streets.
- “The homeless don’t work.”
Many homeless people are employed on fixed-term or temporary contracts.
In an attempt to correct the narrative about the homeless, some homeless people in France over the years have told their stories in their own words on social media. Let’s meet three of them: Stéphane, Francis and ‘SDF75′, who all have at one point offered insight into their lives on their respective blogs.
‘I am a computer programmer first and a homeless person second’
Why would a homeless person make a website? I could simply say, ‘Why not?’ But to be logical, I will say that I am a computer programmer first and a homeless person second…I would simply like to have my own website.
When we constantly brand certain groups of people, particularly the homeless, with a completely unrealistic and defamatory label, don’t be surprised when I chose to showcase the opposite image in order to disprove these false ideas…
SDF75 doesn’t hesitate to bust prejudices by publishing “show off” photos (to use his own words) and give regular updates on his work as a programmer and of his sporting activities:
I worked for over 13 years. Stable jobs, but also temporary contracts, which allowed me to hold a range of different permissions, and in this way to quickly develop a strong skill base. If we include my work with individuals (repairs, upgrades, installing Windows, personalised configurations, not to mention internet training), I have around 16 years experience. Now, I claim job seekers benefit, and of course I beg as well. Because if you want to stay clean and make a decent living, you don’t live by morals, but by cash…
And this is what allows me to maintain my knowledge.
‘Something happened which turned my life upside down’
After being fired from my job as a chauffeur, I started an ironing business in Paris. I put all my savings and all my energy into it. At the point where things started to go wrong, something happened which turned my life upside down. My wife (I was married for seven years with two children) decided to divorce because she wanted a stable situation. After having spoken with her about it for several days and trying to convince her to support me, she decided to leave. One afternoon, I came home and there was no-one there — no clothes, just a note to explain to me that she had left. I found myself alone in this empty flat, it was horrible. I stayed in my children’s bedroom for hours with my depression. The result was that I let myself go. For weeks I did nothing at all. No money, no rent and one day, it was the streets for me.
‘People think that we don’t care’
In 2012, Francis was 60 years old and at that point had been homeless for 15 years. He hoped to be able to take retirement soon to be able to change his life.
On his blog, hosted on news site Rue89, Francis tried to set straight a few preconceptions about the lives of the homeless, one being that the homeless are not interested in the evolution of current society. Francis explained that the homeless discuss politics as much as anyone else:
People think that we don’t care, but in the queue at the soup kitchen or on the streets, everywhere we’re talking about the elections! In 1998, a law to combat social exclusion opened registration to the electoral register to include the homeless. The vote is reserved for people of French nationality, exercising their civic rights and able to prove their address. Most homeless people are homed in a centre established by the authorities – the Emmaüs charity, for example, manages the residence of some 400 homeless people. However, the complexity of the administrative situations and the extreme conditions of life mean that the homeless rarely vote.
He added his thoughts about presidential elections in 2002 and 2007:
In 2002, I voted for Jospin in the first round and for Chirac in the second. Chirac was definitely not my first choice, but I couldn’t possibly vote for Le Pen. I might have voted for Sarkozy in 2007 but today I wouldn’t even think about it: we know now that it’s not him that will help the poor. He won’t reduce social inequality. Like [current French president François] Hollande, by the way. His policy will be much the same on social issues: he prioritises emergency shelter in the winter but nothing more. That’s not enough for those on the streets.
In France, 3.6 million people are either homeless (895,000 people), living in very difficult — overcrowded or below the comfort threshold — circumstances (2,880,000 people), or in a precarious situation, such as living in a hotel, caravan, or other temporary accommodation. This data is according to the Fondation Abbé-Pierre. Three homeless people in 10 have a job, generally an insecure position, whether a fixed-term contract or temporary work. It is the cost of housing and the lack of adequate social housing provision that keeps them on the streets.