Activists call for end to France's homeless crisis

Four years ago the name Augustin Legrand circled the globe. His organisation, Les Enfants de Don Quichotte – The Children of Don Quixote – installed 100 illegal red tents on the banks of the Seine in December 2006 to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in France.

Nicolas Sarkozy, then just a prospective presidential candidate, promised that "two years from now, no longer will anyone be forced to sleep outside and die from the cold".

Despite new legislation that placed the right to housing on the same level as education and healthcare, the legions of French homeless – 4,000 rough sleepers in Paris alone; 146,000 in the whole country – are as large as ever.

Mr Legrand is campaigning again but this time he is insisting that the government should obey its own legislation. "The laws are there but the government still doesn't do anything," he told The Independent.

This winter – which has been even more severe than 2006 – the red tents have been out on the river banks again. This time they did not shelter the homeless but representatives of 80 per cent of the humanitarian organisations in France trying to embarrass the government into action.

The authorities did respond, by breaking up the encampments even more rapidly than in past years. Mr Legrand admits that he has lost faith in the persuasive power of the red tent campaigns. "Every year the tents go up, and every year they are taken down quicker than the last," he said.

Besides, he says, the temporary conscience towards the homeless which develops in France each Christmas may be counterproductive. The homeless are in need of more than a bit of festive generosity. "The government gives €1bn [£850m] a year to the homeless in France. They know it's not enough, so every winter they throw in €60m as a last-minute measure," he said.

Charity, either from the government or from the public, is not the solution, he says. It may even be a trap. "As far as I am concerned, charity is destroying our struggle."

Mr Legrand says that the plight of the homeless in France has deteriorated drastically since the economic crisis in 2008. The price of housing is at an all-time high in Paris. The average purchase price for an apartment within the French capital proper has passed the €7000-per-square-metre mark for the first time.

Not enough is being done to enforce the laws which order each town to provide a fixed proportion of social housing. As a result, Mr Legrand says, shelter is no longer a problem just for the down and out. "Sixty-five per cent of Parisians say that becoming homeless is a worry for them," he said.

All the same, he says, there is not yet a "counter-power" to speak to the government on behalf of the homeless. "So there is no danger for the government in not acting. We don't just need money, we need new political action (to make sure affordable homes are available). But the government prefers to spend money and do nothing."

Across the whole of France there are 100,000 places in shelters for the homeless and a further 10,000 in the winter. At the last official count, there were 146,000 homeless in France.

Mr Legrand was elected last spring as a regional councillor for Ile-de-France for the Europe Ecology-Green Party. He plans to use his position to launch a political campaign to ensure that laws on homelessness are enforced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine