A homeless crisis decades in the making leaves hundreds of French dying on the streets.
Paris marked a grim milestone last week when a homeless 50-year-old man was found dead on the streets. This was the 119th death of the year in the city, which has seen victims ranging from 80 years old to infants as young as four die on the streets.
The Collective of the Dead on the Street is a charity keeping a count of the number of homeless people passing away on the streets of France. This year alone, the organisation’s grim list puts the number of dead at 439, although it believes this is an undercount.
The most recent death drew condemnation from a local politician who described the news as “sad” and called on central authorities to open emergency shelters for families who sleep outside.
In March of this year, The Collective paid tribute to the homeless people who died in 2020, which numbered more than 535. They did this by producing 535 videos that told the individual stories of those who died.
The number of people who die on the streets of France has risen steeply in the last 20 years. In 2002 official figures put the numbers at 88 deaths in the whole of France. By 2007 the numbers had increased to 199.
As a global financial crisis battered France in 2008, deaths jumped to 383. Since 2014, it has averaged more than 500 every year.
In recent years, the number of homeless people in France - one of Europe’s most advanced economies - has ballooned to more than 200,000, which represents an increase of over 50 percent in the last 15 years. More than 30,000 of those are minors.
The plight of homeless people in France is an expression of a wider housing problem throughout the country. By some accounts this has left more than 3.6 million people either deprived of a home, living in overcrowded accommodations, or reduced to a situation of precarious occupation.
In 2017 French President Emmanual Macron announced that there would be no one left on the streets within six months.
“The first battle: to house everyone with dignity. By the end of the year, I no longer want anyone in the streets, in the woods,” he triumphantly proclaimed shortly after assuming the presidency.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has battered France and Macron’s presidency has been blighted by protests, that goal has long since been forgotten.
Yet France’s homeless woes are not a result of a lack of housing. According to a recent study, out of the 37 million homes in the country, more than 3 million are vacant, which is more than ten times the number of homeless people.
As winter fast approaches and Covid-19 restrictions start to kick in, local authorities are trying to introduce emergency measures to temporarily house the homeless in a bid to reduce deaths and hospitalisations.