Homelessness in Paris

During a trip to Paris last month, I was struck by the number of apparently homeless individuals who were sitting against buildings and near the streets, particularly those with babies and small children.

While data concerning total estimates of homeless people is lacking, the French national statistics office reported a 50% increase in homelessness in France from 2001 to 2012, including a rise in foreigners and women. A recent study by the charity “Les Morts de la Rue” (The Dead in the Streets) revealed that 453 homeless people died in the streets of France in 2013, which equates to a homeless person dying every 20 hours. The life expectancy for people with no fixed housing, then, appears to be 30 years less than that of the rest of the population. To draw attention to this problem, the French collective prepared an obituary containing the names of all the homeless people who died last year as part of a remembrance ceremony held in Paris on March 18.

There are of course, some infrastructures in place in Paris to help with this problem, including homeless shelters, but many articles cite interviews with homeless people who say they prefer to stay on the street as the shelters are plagued by theft and unhygienic conditions.

In France as in the United States and elsewhere, there is a high proportion of homeless individuals with mental health and/or substance abuse problems. Within France’s population of 65 million, an estimated 12 million inhabitants currently suffer from one or more mental disorders. Deinstitutionalization and a shortage of low-priced accommodation are cited as familiar contributing factors.

The French in general have a deep concern and sympathy for the homeless population. One article states, “The French are the nationality most likely to view homelessness as the result of financial crisis, unemployment and housing crises and the least likely to blame the individual for personal reasons such as drugs or alcohol.” This can be compared to a 2011 American survey from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in which 91% of respondents asserted that homelessness was primarily caused by drug and alcohol abuse; 62 percent said it was laziness.

While doing some research following my trip, I found many examples of the sympathy that the French reportedly feel toward the homeless population. Ranzika Faid drives a “shower-mobile” through Paris equipped with free toilets for homeless people and furnished with soaps, clothing, razors, deodorant, and perfume. Everything is designed toward the goal of restoring dignity to the residents of the street. The idea comes from a 2006 survey published by Emmaus, which revealed that the third priority for the homeless is to feel themselves clean. From this evidence, Faid started a two and a half year campaign to collect the necessary funds in order to buy the Mobil’douche and cover the insurance, gas and 230 liters of water to keep in the tanks. At the entrance there is a room with free cookies and coffee, with two private bathrooms toward the back, one of which is usable by people with disabilities.

Another innovative example of compassion toward the homeless in Paris is Joël Catherin, a young lawyer who began writing quirky cardboard signs for the homeless people in his neighborhood, such as the sign here which translates to, “I could be your grandmother.” His signs have since drawn attention from locals, social media and the French press. Catherin states, “Humans don’t need subtitles. It’s more that, through the words on the cardboard, passersby looked at these people differently and realized they were human beings. It wasn’t about money, it was about changing the way people view others.”

Behavioral health, Homelessness & housing    

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

4 comments on “Homelessness in Paris

  • you’re amazing!! we’re working on a project for school and this was really helpful in giving us information. thanks to you, our whole class will be more informed about homelessness in France & in the US when we give our presentation. 🙂 🙂 Thank you!!

  • The Government HAS to and NEEDS to help the Homeless which most have a mental illness and or Drug Addiction. And in The U.S. one of the richest countries in the world. We have to do more for our people. It is shocking to see all these homeless people living at the Library and on the streets begging for money. Here in the U.S. Shame on us for NOT doing more for those in GREAT NEED !

  • I am a french citizen from India staying in France, wife wife and daughter, 17 yrs.We came to France on 09 April 2016. We came to our far relative house and stayed for 2 months, we brought 2000 euros with us. Me and my wife are HIV positive and fell sick there. We shifted our house and started our treatment from where my wife got her tabs. I am yet to start my tabs. In this condition I paid rent for 3 months from the money I had and from the support of some known person who gave 100 euros each. Till now i did not get any money support From government. I am left with no money and find no way to pay my rent on 10th. I don’t want to be a burden for the owner. I am in need of help, so please suggest me and help me. I went assistant social, security social for help they just say to wait , wait, without understanding the rent situation. I am worried and confused. Thanks.

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