This is a Pile of Rags, Right ? Wrong. It’s a Home.....
Fripouille | February 16, 2009 at 11:55 amby
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“He” was a guy who used to live on that street, not far from my place, for a couple of months. It’s a very busy just-out-of-downtown thoroughfare, complete with trams every three minutes and a busy road as well. Maybe he felt less alone with people around him. I took this picture while he was still there. It was freezing cold that day.
Fact. there are over a hundred thousand people without housing in France, many of whom are on the street.
(Source material here. French only, sorry).
Why is this? This post offers a partial response to that question, a partial response we don’t always think about.
Most people I know think this should not be happening in 2009 in one of the most highly-developed countries in the world. Those people who think it should not be happening include;
My neighbour, a 22 year-old law student, and three other student neighbours in my small apartment block. Then there’s Christine, divorced and a fierce advocate of housing for all. François, a computer programmer, finds all this very sad. Hazel, Isabelle, Michel and Dominique are also shocked by the homeless figures here in France.
And so am I. You too, probably.And I know many more good-thinking people like us.
But our sense of outrage at seeing people in this life-threatening situation (hundreds of homeless people will die of cold in France this winter) is not all we have in common. The other thing we have in common is that the neighbours, Christine, François, Hazel, Isabelle, Michel, Dominique and all the others, including myself, are single.
This means that we live alone. And all of us live alone in apartments or houses of at least 75 square meters and two bedrooms minimum.
It may seem hard to believe, but one third of houses and apartments here in France are occupied by only one person, and the figures go up every year. ONE THIRD! That means that at the end of 2007 there were 8.4 million under-used apartments or houses.
In fact, there are as many apartments or houses occupied by one person as there are occupied by two people. And this automatically means, of course, that only one third of housing here is occupied by three or more people (entire families).
(Source - INSEE) French only, sorry).
Think about it. We have a hundred thousand people out on the street or in homeless shelters, and a third of the country’s housing stock is under-occupied!
So let’s get back to me and my friends. Why do we live alone?
Well, my student neighbour (and doubtless the other students in my block too) HATES the idea of being cooped up in a small place, and she likes to have spare bedrooms for friends, so daddy pays her this big apartment, to keep his little girl happy. Christine is divorced-like-everyone-else, and now feels the need to be independant, and she feels good doing what she wants, when she wants, without being hassled by a man. François is anti-social (but a good friend) and will probably never hook up in his life if he’s not careful. Hazel and Isabelle are professional women who don’t have time for permanent men, but need space for their invitees. Same thing for Michel and Dominique, who, as men, also like inviting buddies (me included) to drink a few beers and change the world when they feel like it. And the list goes on.....
Me? Oh, I’m no better than they are. I live in a fairly large apartment which used to have three reasonably-sized bedrooms as far as I can work out, but now has just two big ones. I’m taking a break from living with a girlfriend. I need space for my head and for my home recording studio too, and my god daughter comes to stay often, as well as my friends, amongst them women. They appreciate a little privacy, of course. Also, I have had this place for years, so the rent is cheap because it’s inflation-linked and hasn’t been hiked up by the landlord.
In other words, we all live comfortable lifestyles and do what we want, because we are free citizens in a comparatively rich society and we value our independance. Gone are the days of drudgery when people married early and had 2.5 kids and a dog and a goldfish and a family car and stayed together forever. Times change, and values change too.
Things weren’t like that before.
Paradoxically, although our parents, and society in general, had less money than we do, there were less homeless people too, partially because there were many more families and housing was mostly occupied by families. Not many people lived alone when I was a child. Most of the housing stock at that time was used to its potential. In fact when I was a kid, we would call the few homeless people to be seen “tramps”, a politically VERY incorrect term in these days of mass homelessness. Living alone was not really “the thing to do”. Most housing that is over fifty years old was built with families in mind, not individuals. People lived in less space before.
All this means that it’s hard to have to admit that our progressive and emancipated principles and strong social consciences are one thing, but this has consequences too. We do all have valid reasons for living alone, of course, and, After all, we have the right to. But the consequences are there nevertheless.
We have to face the facts. Given the way we live today, with more and more people living alone, there will NEVER be enough money to house the 100 000 or more no-fixed-abode victims in this country. Period. Who is going to pay the bill? It just is not financially possible to build enough housing for a society in which more and more people live alone. One abode per person? Not mechanically possible.
That’s the bottom line.
Hard world? Yes. Very. And it’s getting harder.
Ask the guy under the Pile of Rags......
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