France is guilty of human rights abuses of homeless people and laws guaranteeing a home for all fail to protect the most vulnerable, a U.N. Special Rapporteur said on Friday.
France, like most European countries, has seen a rise in homelessness in the past decade, fuelled by fallout from the global financial crisis and an influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
More than 12,000 people sleep rough on the streets of France, according to the national statistics body INSEE.
In 2018, 566 homeless died nationwide, according to the charity Les Morts de la Rue which tracks homeless deaths. More than 100 of these were in Paris alone – over half the number of people who were murdered in New York City last year.
After visiting makeshift migrants camps in Paris and the port town of Calais, urban squats in Marseille and Roma settlements in dingy city outskirts, Rapporteur Leilani Farha called for an end to evictions that violated international law ensuring the right to adequate housing.
“Evictions that are happening throughout the country, in a variety of different contexts, are not happening in compliance with international human rights law,” Farha told Reuters.
“In Calais, I met a population of migrants who are certainly in a kind of trauma,” the Canadian lawyer added, criticising police treatment of migrants sleeping in forests and on roadsides.
A government spokeswoman and a spokeswoman for the housing ministry did not respond to Reuters’ calls and text messages seeking comment.
French law enables residents eligible for social housing to go to court if they do not receive assistance, in the case of Paris within six months.
Every evening, Warner Boosper, 51, rolls out his bedding of used billboard posters and a thin blanket in a metro station in Paris’ 19th arrondissement after a day begging for small change and reading.
After serving a string of prison sentences for theft, he has lived on and off the streets for the last 19 years. “We’ve been asking for help for years, me and others,” said Warner, whose cell phone screensaver is a photo of two of his six children.
“So many people die of the cold,” he said. “People are made to believe they will be catered for, but actually they’re given nothing.”
Farha said many homeless people were not receiving elementary care.
“People are not even accessing the most basic emergency services”, Farha said. Calls to an national emergency shelter hotline were often not answered, she said.
France should focus on providing unconditional accommodation to the homeless, rather than moving them through different “levels” of shelters depending on their work, health and administrative status, the rapporteur said.