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France: “SDF” Storm and Thousands “Without Permanent Shelter,” Including the Homeless

Tunis, 08-03-2024

Over the past decade, the number of homeless individuals has doubled, shedding light on governmental performance. Homeless individuals lodge in metro stations, on sidewalks, and under bridges, surviving on scraps of sympathy from passersby.

Like most European countries, France witnesses an annual increase in the category of individuals known as “SDF,” or “Sans Domicile Fixe” (Without Permanent Shelter), including the homeless.

This increase, overall, was a result of the global financial crisis and the influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Over the past decade, the number of homeless individuals has doubled, spotlighting governmental performance. Homeless individuals lodge in metro stations, on sidewalks, and under bridges, surviving on scraps of sympathy from passersby.

And how does the French government and its institutions strive to improve their situations?

Christophe Robert, General Delegate of the Abbé Pierre Foundation, demonstrated his annual report on housing issues on February 1, 2024, urging the government to act to avoid a major crisis.

Based on the report, 330,000 people are homeless in France, a number that has more than doubled over the past decade.

Writer and activist Naoumie Kabounito states that the actual number of homeless individuals surpasses this figure “due to their dispersion in rural and remote areas, which are difficult to reach by statistics.”

It is worth mentioning that the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee) conducted years ago a detailed examination into “homeless individuals” to study the characteristics and paths of these individuals, concluding that the number exceeds 140,000. Among them were only a few “street homeless.”

Cabonito adds that this category has seen a significant increase in the number of women and children compared to the past decade, where “women constitute approximately one-third of the total.”

Some of them are victims of domestic violence. Additionally, there are those who refuse accommodation, and “we can only compel them in cases of neurological disorders,” in addition to the migration factor and the increase in asylum applications due to global crises and wars.

Homeless individuals face many problems that threaten their health, mental balance, and lives as well. A man died due to cold a few days ago. According to the newspaper “Le Parisien,” a violent quarrel broke out in a homeless camp in Évry this month, leading to the death of a 47-year-old Romanian man.

According to a survey by the “Dead in the Streets,” association,  there were 611 deaths on the streets in 2022. According to a study conducted by the “ANRSERM” institute, about six times the number of “hidden” homeless individuals die each year without anyone noticing.

Cabonito confirms that people who have lived on the streets for long periods develop a separate mentality detached from society, and “lose the sense of time and place, refuse state housing,” and do not mind sleeping on the streets among pedestrians, accumulating significant psychological problems. Additionally, there are problems faced by accommodation centers regarding the huge numbers, and the need for integration and dealing with others in non-individual rooms, especially in the capital, Paris, as she described.

There are many examples of homeless individuals on the streets of France. For example:

Alan, an African homeless individual on the outskirts of Saint Lazare in Paris for 10 years. He migrated to France by sea. He is currently without any identification papers after being robbed, a phenomenon widespread among these homeless individuals. Consequently, he is not qualified to receive any assistance provided by the state and survives on the sympathy of passersby or odd jobs.

As for Jawad, of Algerian origin, he says, “Sometimes I can find shelter in a hotel room, but most of the time, I sleep on the sidewalks and under bridges.”

Jawad works in buying and selling, looking for scrap to resell it cheaply to buy his food.

He adds, “If I have enough money, I will rent a bed in a cheap hotel.” He expresses his frustration, saying, “The French state does not recognize my existence. I have been in Paris for more than 4 years and do not have any identity or residency documents.”

He confirmed that numerous associations helped him obtain AME, which is government medical assistance for these categories. He also applied for social housing, “but it seems that I am not a priority,” as he expressed it.

The phenomenon of drugs finds its place among this category.

Shakib Hamidan, a social worker at the “Auror” Foundation, currently working in a daytime shelter in Paris, says that this center specifically deals with accompanying drug addicts and reducing the risks associated with addiction, in addition to some awareness activities.

He says that finding shelter for those applying “is not easy, and the number of apartments we have is very limited, and the apartments are already distributed.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, the state allocated large sums to secure additional housing to accommodate the homeless, which significantly increased their number.

Shakib recounts his involvement in the files of this category at the beginning of the pandemic spread in 2020, where the state rented hotels and temporary shelter centers, “which is a method that is still being adopted to this day.”

There are now a number of public and local shelter institutions, accessed according to the criterion of necessity, and after a careful study of personal files.

Pregnant women in past months, victims of violence, children, minors, and workers are given priority for housing.

These centers are divided into : “emergency shelter,” “integration shelter” to support the marginalized to regain stability, and “citizen housing” based on the solidarity of individuals who choose to provide rooms in their homes temporarily to accommodate those facing difficulties.

The Red Cross, “Restaurants of the Heart,” mobile care tours, known as “Mobile Social Services,” are charitable institutions that specialize in distributing food and clothes in the streets or in their centers, and also provide health services.

These centers are funded by donors, and Naoumie Cabonito, who works at the “Ecclesiastical” institution, funded entirely by the state, confirms that the government offers many incentives to donors, “such as tax exemption, making a significant contribution to financing these institutions.”

It is worth mentioning that France is going through a major housing crisis, especially in the capital, Paris. Although the law guarantees the right for decent housing, statistics indicate that nearly 15 million people were affected by this crisis in 2023.

According to Cabonito, the question of homeless individuals requires “real political will and additional funding,” by granting these individuals the opportunity to build a decent civilian life, through which they can contribute to paying taxes and alleviating the burden on the state in the future.

“The experience of receiving Ukrainians is evidence that the state is capable of achieving this when it wants to.”

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