Parisians camp out to denounce homelessness

19th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 19, 2006 (AFP) - On the banks of a trendy Paris canal, a group of campaigners has pitched 100 bright red tents and is asking locals to spend a freezing night sleeping rough, to highlight the city's homeless problem.

PARIS, Dec 19, 2006 (AFP) - On the banks of a trendy Paris canal, a group of campaigners has pitched 100 bright red tents and is asking locals to spend a freezing night sleeping rough, to highlight the city's homeless problem.

Since Saturday, some 200 people have signed up, taking turns in groups of a few dozen to sing songs, share hot drinks — and shiver through the small hours — along with around 50 homeless people sheltering in the camp.

"We need to treat homeless people like human beings, and not like dogs," Armelle Legrand, a Parisian mother-of-two who was angered by the problem of homelessness into abandoning her cosy home for a tent, said Monday.

"We need to stop bandaging up the problem — offering people a soup during the day, and a kennel at night."

"Things need to change," agreed Lucie Bertrand, a 21-year-old student as she huddled around a warm cup of coffee with her boyfriend, both of them recovering from a cold, damp night along the water.

It was the protestors' second attempt to set up camp along the picturesque Canal Saint-Martin — which was used as a backdrop in the hit film 'Amélie' — after being evicted earlier this month by police.

Virginie Leboeuf, owner of a nearby cafe, said she was touched by the protest, which aims to secure a decent roof for all in a country that counts between 100,000 and 400,000 homeless people.

"I wouldn't like to see my children end up homeless. So we give them hot water to make tea and coffee. A little bit of warmth is already something."

Paris' homeless problem was thrust into public view last winter after the charity Médecins du Monde handed out 400 tents to the homeless, prompting clusters of tent camps to spring up along the city's canals and boulevards.

City hall had many of them evacuated last summer after residents complained of noise problems and petty crime.

Critics have accused the authorities of trying to push the problem out of sight, although the city insists it is acting out of concern and would rather see the homeless in shelters than ad-hoc camps.

On Monday, one such camp was forcibly cleared from the banks of the River Seine, near the eastern Austerlitz train station, to allow a public works project to begin, according to the authorities.

But Aicha, a 43-year-old homeless woman who has been sleeping rough since the age of 16, hit out at the official policy, saying theft and assault were rife in all the shelters she has known.

"They tell us the shelters are clean but it's not true. I've seen rats there, and mice. In one shower there were lice and I caught an infection," said the woman, who withheld her real name.

"There are huge problems with alcohol, crazy people who are getting no help," agreed Edouard Delmer, a painter who was once homeless himself.

"What we want is for the 'well-housed' to realise the extent of these people's misery," said Augustin Legrand, an actor who was behind the Paris protest and similar ones in the eastern city of Lyon, and Toulouse and Bordeaux in the southwest.

"We want hundreds of thousands of people to come and join us in the streets, to sleep rough alongside the homeless."

"When there are thousands of us, the state will have no choice but to do something about the problem. Emergency shelters are not enough — we need real housing for all."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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