Heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures have prompted French authorities to open several emergency shelters for people living on the street. But our Observer, a social worker, warns that after the winter campaign the homeless will be no better off.
In addition to the dozens of private homeless shelters
open across France each winter, the French Ministry of Defence announced on Thursday that it was temporarily opening 900 beds (700 in the Paris region and 200 in other French cities) in military training centres for homeless people to take shelter from the cold. They will be run by the “Secours Populaire”
, a French non-governmental organisation. In 2004, there were an estimated 86,000 homeless people in the country.
“Deaths due to the cold are just a small fraction of the homeless mortality rate in France”
The role of our association is to make sure homeless people are not forgotten twice, both before and after their death. We organise burial ceremonies for those who died alone in the street and offer support to their loved ones. We are informed of every homeless person found dead in France: so far, 316 people have died in the street since January 1st. And there are just as many, if not more, in the summer months as in the winter.
Every winter, people will suddenly start focusing on homeless people again. As soon as it starts getting cold, the media will keep count of the number of people who die on the street, and authorities roll out the same “emergency measures” as they do every single other winter. It simply makes no sense. Deaths due to the cold are just a small fraction of the homeless mortality rate in France.
Life on the street is hard on the human body in any season. It wears people out quickly. Deaths often occur suddenly, due to a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm. Violent deaths are also common, because homeless people have no door to lock to protect themselves from aggressors. These are people whose life expectancy is about 50 (against 80 for the rest of the French population). Obviously, the cold doesn’t help, but in fact, there is usually a small hike in homeless deaths in the springtime because a number of shelters are only open during winter months. The real problem is that there are not enough means or political good-will to find a lasting solution to the problem of social exclusion.”
Faces of the Homeless
Samir Azri, who signs his photos by the name of Tatif, is a city employee in the French town of Ivry Sur Seine, and a passionate amateur photographer. He published a beautiful series of images on Flickr titled “Le Peuple de la Rue”
(“The people of the street”), from which the following photos are extracted:
To me, homeless people are not just another photographic subject. When I see a person lying alone and destitute in the street, it really moves something in me and I feel compelled to take a picture. I publish my photos on Flickr to make as many people as possible see the misery that surrounds us. I find it unbearable, and I don’t understand how so many people can be oblivious to it."
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.