A solidarity movement by a French charity aimed at raising awareness about France’s homeless people has triggered a broad political response ahead of a presidential election in April. The “Children of Don Quixote” group started a trend in mid-December – setting up tents along a Paris canal and inviting people who otherwise have a roof over their heads to share a night with the homeless. The movement has spread to other major cities including Nice and Lyon.
There are around 100,000 people living without a fixed address in France according to government statistics but charities say the real figure is closer to a million, with many living in temporary homes, caravans or makeshift housing. The demonstration drew enough media attention for President Jacques Chirac to acknowledge it in his New Year’s address. He urged the government to work in the coming weeks to put in place a “truly enforceable right to housing” that would give homeless people the legal right for a place to live.
In a further such move, three charities have taken over an empty building in Paris, setting up the headquarters of a so-called “ministry for the housing crisis”. Some 80 homeless people have moved into the building, which is owned by a bank. Among them are two siblings and their mother who, like one third of France’s homeless, has a job but does not earn enough to pay the rent.