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France’s growing problem of homelessness was laid bare by new figures released this week, which show that a person living on the streets dies every 20 hours. Life expectancy for homeless people is also 30 years lower than for those people with fixed homes, figures revealed.
A total of 453 homeless people died on the streets of France last year, according to a memorial book compiled by campaign group “Les Morts de la Rue” (Dead in the Streets).
“Did their lives have to end like that?” the group said this week in a statement announcing a remembrance ceremony for them in Paris on March 18.
The average age of the homeless dead – some of whom have proved impossible to identify and are included in the book simply as “a man” or “a woman”, was below 50. That stands out when compared with the fact that average life expectancy in France is 81.5 years.
Christophe Louis, the president of Les Morts de la Rue, told The Local on Tuesday that the figures were “shocking” and the goverment must act.
“These numbers equate to a homeless person dying in France every 20 hours. It’s more than one per day? It’s a scandal,” said Louis.
“The French government needs to introduce a series of reforms aimed at providing help for those on the street. They need access to lodging, for a start, and financial help,” he said. “They need to protect the country’s most vulnerable.
Last year The Local reported how France had seen a steep rise in the number of people living on the streets.
Some 141,500 people were without a fixed abode in France last year, according to a report by national statistics agency INSEE. More than 30,000 of those were children.
This number represents a close to 50-percent increase in homelessness in Europe’s second-largest economy since 2001. What makes the issue more frustrating to campaigners is that France is home to around two million empty properties, and plans to build more new homes.
“Hoteliers take advantage of the problem and charge the state a lot of money to put up homeless people, so it’s expensive. It’s a scandal and the current situation helps no one,” he said.
Anyone who takes a wander around almost any neighbourhood of Paris can see that the issue of homelessness affects most of the French capital, but Louis says the common view that homelessness in France is only a problem in a big cities is not accurate.
“It is everywhere. It exists in little towns and even in the countryside. Obviously you see it more in the big towns where there are more people on the streets but there are homeless people everywhere.”
And it’s not just individuals that can end up living rough in French parks or in train stations, whole families can end up on the street too, he says.
Although Louis acceptsthe problem may never be entirely resolved, what authorities in France must do is allow people the chance to escape a life living rough on the streets.
“Of course we will always have people on the street, that is normal in a democracy where people have the right to live where they want, but the important thing is to help those who want to get off the streets. They need to be given the right help to be able to leave,” he said.
“Even if they might not be able to find jobs it doesn’t mean they have to live on the streets.”
French Housing Minister Cécile Duflot caused controversy last December by asking Catholic church authorities to hand over empty properties to house homeless families during the winter.
In 2011, The Local reported how homeless families in the Paris region had become so desperate in searching for shelter than some had even begun showing up at hospital emergency rooms.
– The Local