Homelessness in France

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PARIS, France — With the iconic Eiffel Tower and the Seine River, the country of France is rich with history and culture. Yet, the rich culture and history also come with a price tag that not everybody can afford. As housing costs rise and the melting pot grows, homelessness in France rose from 93,000 known cases in 2001 to a reported 141,500 cases in 2012. The number remains at around 200,000. However, the French capital Paris saw an additional 21% increase between 2018-2019.

The Homeless Demographic

More than half of the homeless in the country are not French-born. The majority are men living alone who arrive as immigrants, migrants or refugees looking for a safer, better place to live. Some are fathers who arrive in France in search of work to send money back to families in their home countries. However, they often find that their course goes wayward living in a social system that makes it hard to survive.

Without being able to speak the French language, integration into society is difficult. Such is the case of a Moroccan man, known as “Tango”, who came to the streets of Paris back in the 1980s when the only housing available to him was the crowded living quarters with other immigrant men in the factory in which he worked. Somewhere along the way, his social isolation drove him to alcoholism and personal loss. Rough sleeping became his way of life. After twenty years of living on the street, Tango’s life came to an end.

Lucy Williams of BBC News remarked, “A long-term home, without conditions attached, might well have been the key to getting Tango off the streets.” Unfortunately, France didn’t have enough social housing to make that a reality.

Shedding Light on the Issue

Since the start of President Emmanuel Macron’s term in 2017, plans to thwart homelessness in France have fallen to the wayside. President Macron responded to anti-government protests with a four-year plan to fight poverty. However, it has failed to shed light on the hot topics of homelessness and higher housing costs in the country. With the rising cost of rent pushing people out of their homes and social housing and assistance programs maxing out, a lack of housing is intricately woven into the existence of poverty.

In the Greater Paris region, which is the richest part of France, only 50% of those prioritized as requiring immediate housing have received social housing units. The other half remain without a home due to the fact that there aren’t any social housing units left. It is an unfortunate numbers game that can be significantly helped.

The case with emergency shelters shares a similar story. Even with the expansion of emergency housing with an annual budget increase, these shelters could only fulfill a quarter of the 35,380 requests they received daily. It is hard enough to be placed in emergency shelters through dialing the emergency hotline. The more egregious flaw isn’t that there aren’t enough units to go around, but that the short stay of a day or two is too fleeting to wipe out homelessness in France as intended. Long-term housing is quickly burgeoning as the only solution to getting people off the French streets for good.

Government of France Lends a Hand

As news hit about homelessness steadily rising in the country, the government of France raised the budget from 305 million EUR to 820 million EUR between 2012 and 2017. It also made way for spearheading investments in housing with social support goals.

The power of the purse strings showed immediate results. As Leilani Farha, a U.N. Special Rapporteur, reported that the government of France found permanent residences for 70,000 people a year later in 2018. There are still around 200,000 homeless individuals that remain. However, France has enlisted a powerful strategy that not only builds more housing but ensures a swift transition off the street.

Housing First in France

In efforts to end homelessness for future generations to come, France has adopted the Housing First strategy to cities such as Bordeaux, Dijon, Lyon, Grenoble and Paris. True to its name, Housing First takes a unique approach of providing long-term housing to individuals who would otherwise be deemed unfit to receive social housing. It is already a popular strategy in several European countries. Experts say it is changing minds regarding social housing. The program addresses solutions to both a lack of housing and the long-standing issues perpetuating the cycle of homelessness.

Previous to Housing First, there were several prerequisites to accessing housing.  People were expected to get sober or deal with any mental health issues in advance just to get temporary housing. “[And] then if you’re ready, you’ll get permanent accommodation,” explains Serme-Morin, of the European Federation of National Organisation. The organization “Housing First means long-term housing is a precondition for sorting out everything else.”

The program originally started under the program name, “Un chez-Soi d’abord” in 2001. It was previously intended to exclusively house those with existing mental conditions. Now, it has expanded to include a wider net of cases in the country. Two years following the pilot launch, the program streamlined an 85% housing retention success rate, which is aligned with the end goal of curbing homelessness in France entirely.

Future Projects

As Housing First continues to hold great promise for France, “Un chez-Soi d’abord” will develop 16 new housing projects from 2018-2022 in its five-year expansion plan, This should continue to drive down the number of homelessness with 2,000 more housing opportunities on hand. Nineteen European countries have already adopted the Housing First initiative. So far, Housing First has proven successful in several countries. The reduction of homelessness in France would mean a collective win for all of Europe.

Grace Kim
Photo: Flickr

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