France to create 'legal right' to housing for homeless

4th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - The French government announced plans to create a "legal right" to housing in response to a snowballing campaign that has seen a tent city for the homeless spring up in the heart of Paris.

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - The French government announced plans to create a "legal right" to housing in response to a snowballing campaign that has seen a tent city for the homeless spring up in the heart of Paris.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a press conference a bill would be presented to the cabinet on January 17 and hopefully adopted before parliament breaks up ahead of April's presidential election.

The law, if passed, would make France the second European country to guarantee the right to housing, after Scotland which adopted similar measures with its 2003 Homeless Act.

President Jacques Chirac used his New Year's address to promise swift government action on a "right to housing" -- a key demand of protestors who have mounted a headline-grabbing campaign in support of France's estimated 100,000 homeless.

Villepin said the government wanted the right to become legally enforceable by 2008 for "people in the most difficult situations: the homeless, but also the working poor and single women with children."

"That is the time necessary to ensure that all the people concerned can be provided with decent lodgings, whether in a transitional shelter or an individual home," he said.

By 2012, the government wants the right to housing to be legally enforceable for all, with a guarantee provided by the state, or in some cases regional or local authorities.

From that point onwards, "every person or family housed in unworthy or unsanitary conditions" will able to take legal action to have their rights enforced, he said.

Villepin said the law would "make France one of the most advanced countries in terms of social rights". Housing would become the third legally enforceable right in France, along with access to education and healthcare.

Four months ahead of presidential elections, with the homeless issue thrust centre-stage, the housing measure was seen as a bid by the centre-right to underscore its commitment to social justice.

The protest wave started last month when a small group of campaigners -- called Les Enfants de Don Quichotte ("The Children of Don Quixote") -- pitched a 200-strong tent camp along a trendy Paris canal, housing homeless people as well as well-heeled citizens prepared to sleep rough for a few days out of solidarity.

Makeshift camps have since sprung up all over France, including in the Mediterranean port of Marseille, the historic town of Orleans, and the southern cities of Lyon and Toulouse.

On Tuesday a group of eight struggling families, backed by campaigners, moved into a vacant office block near the Paris stock exchange, a giant squat that have dubbed a "ministry" for the homeless and ill-housed.

Politicians of all stripes -- including presidential frontrunners Nicolas Sarkozy on the right and Segolene Royal on the left -- had responded on cue, lining up with pledges to tackle the plight of the homeless.

According to the charity Emmaus, one million people in France do not have a home of their own: 100,000 sleep rough, while the rest live in campsites, hotels or shelters. Another two million people have housing "problems".

The "right to housing" measures come in addition to a 70-million-euro (90-million-dollar) emergency plan for the homeless announced last month.

But a spokesman for Segolene Royal, the Socialist presidential frontrunner, warned the government against making "great announcements", saying what was needed was a massive commitment to build more public housing.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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