Homelessness in Paris


Homelessness in Paris: A Very Prevalent Problem

Every where you go in Paris, you'll run into someone asking you for money. Whether they are physically wandering around the metro asking you for money or laying on the street with a jar in front of them, you're bound to run into someone asking for money. And like any large city, there are a lot of people who are unfortunately homeless. But in my travels, I have noticed that Paris has the most visible amount of homelessness in all the major cities that I am traveling to. So what does it look like to be homeless in Paris and what occurred for many of these people to become homeless? After months of encounters, I decided it was time to do some research.

Homelessness can be seen everywhere in Paris. It's not swept under the rug and kept a secret. Even in the richest of areas, people can be seen sleeping on the streets or in the metro station. Walking home the other night at 11:30pm, I took a different route and noticed at least ten homeless people sleeping in doorways of businesses. The most common place for people to sleep in Paris is in the metros because its protected from the weather. People can go weeks at a time before being asked to move, though a few days later they make their way back to their spots. But the further outside of Paris you go, the more you see makeshift houses made of metal, cardboard, and other materials they can use to live in. They remind me of Hoovervilles as they're all grouped together in what seems to be unlivable conditions.

As for what a typical homeless person looks like, there is nothing ordinary. A large percentage of the Roma population is homeless in Paris, and this is the group of people that is highly discriminated against compared to other homeless people. The stereotypes of the "gypsies" makes it harder for them to get money from people and stable sleeping locations. Many other immigrant groups are homeless in Paris and some can be seen digging through garbage cans trying to find food. And then there are your french people, either down on their luck or addicted to drugs that you'll find sleeping in the metros or on the streets. Homelessness doesn't affect one specific race or group of people, though certain groups get treated better and with more respect than others because of prejudices.

There's not a day that goes by where you don't notice someone asking for money. Whether it's people playing for music, leaving notes, making speeches, or sitting on corners with their dogs, people are asking for money to eat, to find a place to stay, to live. Some people will walk around and put a piece of paper explaining their situation next to you then come by and collect it in hopes that you put some money on top of that paper. Some people will sing songs, play instruments, no matter how good or bad they are, in order to get some money. Others will go from car to car on the metro, making a speech and asking for money. Other people sit on the street, usually with an animal, asking for money. Not everyone makes money, but the people that do are usually the retirees who are not receiving enough to meet their daily needs. The other people that get money are the mothers with children or the people with animals. But usually whenever a retired person asks for money, everyone pulls out their wallets.

One of the reasons why homelessness is so visible in Paris compared to other countries is because France is pretty tolerant of people sleeping in the streets. I've watched people get pulled out of the U-Bahn station in Berlin for sleeping there, whereas in Paris, most of the time people are left alone. Paris also has a policy that they cannot kick squatters out of an apartment in the winter to avoid people from freezing to death. But the problem is that Paris is not able to accommodate the entire homeless population. Since 2004 it has expanded its shelter capacity and even pays for hotel rooms when it cannot accommodate more people. But there are still hundreds that are forced to sleep on the streets at night. Homelessness is a growing problem in Paris and the city is struggling to find a solution.

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