Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was homeless? If you're from Australia, then chances are you haven't. They usually sit there, quietly asking, waiting, pleading with their eyes…. But in France on the other hand, they tend to be a little more in your face. (Edit: Having said that, every person is different. Some people who are homeless in France are shy; others are extrovert. Some are have a smile, others are clearly worried and sad. Some wear kinda nice clothes, but have nothing to eat. Some sleep on cardboard in a quiet spot outside, while others sleep in metro stations where it's a bit safer and warmer. Others are squatters, such as the Roma in Lille. I've only had a handful of conversations with people who are homeless in Lille so necessarily I can't speak for them all. Anyway, that would be like trying to speak for all the people with houses! )
|Candy like a bar|
Homeless, more commonly known as SDF (sans domicile fixe), are everywhere. As mentioned in my previous blog post, Paris is full of SDF, partly due to the high cost of living and unemployment. In Lille, where most of my experiences have been, SDF often come up to you and plead for a few euros to help buy some food. In Lille, there are also the Romas or Romanian gypsies who mutter unintelligibly in their own tongue oftentimes, begging desperately for monie or juste des petits éspeces, 'sss'iil vooous plaaaît'. It's distressing, but at the same time it can be misleading. I've been told by French friends that the Roma have a strong community identity and often pull in a lot of funds to redistribute among themselves. However, like I emphasized earlier, every sub-culture, ever person is different. I'd imagine there would be in-fighting, exclusion, injustice and cruelty within their own communities, just like with people that do have homes!
But as for other nationalities on the street, it's hard to say if there are trends in how they form friendships or alliances. This is just an impression, but I take it that during sleeping times, some homeless group together for security while perhaps taking shifts throughout the night to guard their property. If Lille is anything like what I saw in Sydney, it seems as if the SDF have a fair sense of personal space and territory. That is, when asking for money, they space themselves out across the city.
|Braderie de Lille by gamy|
It would appear that the French homeless in Lille are not too different from the Roma, in terms of government support. I don't know to what extent this would be true though.There seems to be a few sub-cultures of homeless here who have made an art of staying on the street. One conspicuous sub-culture often dresses in a certain way: dreadlocked hair, enormous dogs held tightly on a leash,with gaunt, alert looks on their faces. For some, it's been a way of escape from their home. I spoke to one girl who begs, yet in fact she studies at my uni, Lille 3! Oh yes, there are beggars in French universities. So I was talking to her, for the second time, and she recognised me. I remembered that she had told me her dad was violent at home and she wanted out, so she took to the streets. I think I remember that she only stays at her home occasionally for sleep. These a but a few of the many different backgrounds that people living on the street come from. It would be unfair to label them simplistically and impersonally as 'the SDF'. I've tried to avoid this in the blog--feel free to give suggestions if you think I haven't achieved this. What I do want to emphasize is that it's easy for us, as people with homes, to be critical of the problem, but not actually relate to the people who are experiencing it, usually because of 'busyness'. What is that, really?
Perhaps from this post, you've started to consider having conversation with a homeless person near you. Please do--they are often open to conversation. You may discover they know lots, are quite different to what you expected, but have had a pretty rough patch...
Another question that's worth reflecting on: do we have a tendency to merely expect the government to support the SDF, or do we also take personal responsibility to look after our vulnerable street people?
My early wonderings aloud whether I'd get cultural shock...
My impressions of Lille 3, my university.
Funny cultural observations while in France.