May 30, 2023

Anger over plan to persuade homeless people to leave Paris before Olympics | Paris

Local politicians and charities in France have expressed concerns about a French government plan to encourage thousands of homeless people and asylum seekers to leave the Paris area before next year’s Olympic Games and move to other regions of the country to free up accommodation in the capital.

The news agency Agence France-Presse reported that since mid-March, the government has asked local prefects to create temporary reception centres in every French region except the north and Corsica, which would free up space in hotels normally used as emergency accommodation centres in and around Paris.

The housing minister, Olivier Klein, told parliament this month that numerous hotels did not want to serve as emergency accommodation for homeless people or asylum seekers this autumn because they expected an influx of visitors during the rugby World Cup, and the same was true for next summer’s Olympics. Maud Gatel, a centrist MP from the MoDem party, said 5,000 beds in emergency accommodation would be lost.

Under the plan, homeless people who voluntarily left Paris or surrounding areas would be housed for three weeks in the temporary regional reception centres, paid for by the state, before being guided towards accommodation in the same region that met their needs.

Bruz, a town of 18,000 people near Rennes in Brittany, has been designated to house one of the reception centres. It is scheduled to receive 50 people every three weeks from September. However, its mayor, Philippe Salmon, said he was not in favour of the centre being set up there, in what he called “unfit” conditions.

Salmon criticised the state of the land where the centre was to be located, which had been described as a wasteland near train tracks. “The ground is polluted by heavy metals and petrol. For us, these are not dignified conditions in which to house people,” he said. Salmon wanted to know how the state would address any potential tension.

The mayor told the France Inter radio station that local politicians had not been consulted. After Yannick Morez, the mayor of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, a seaside town in western France, resigned this month after death threats and an arson attack on his home over an asylum seeker centre.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, said: “There is absolutely no question of chasing anyone from Paris. None at all. Nobody will be forced to leave, nobody will be obliged to go the other end of France.

“I am angry about this being pushed on to the city [authority] because it’s not our role or responsibility and we already play more than our part in finding urgent accommodation for vulnerable people. Every week we are putting families into homes.”

She said it was a longstanding problem “totally unrelated to the Olympic Games” and she had been asking the government to come up with a plan for years.

“Paris will continue to play its part, but it is for the state to solve this. For years I have asked the government to come up with a plan and they have not.”

Hidalgo said Rémi Ferraud, a senator and former mayor of the 10th arrondissement in northern Paris where many immigrants gather around the Gare du Nord, planned to submit a draft law at the end of June calling for a national plan to “share” the distribution of people from Paris around France.

City hall says there are 150,000 people in temporary accommodation in the Paris region, Île-de-France, and an estimated 3,000 people, mostly single men and long-term homeless, slept rough in the capital.

Setting up reception centres and finding homeless people and immigrants accommodation outside Paris was a solution but it needed to be properly organised and needed state support for local authorities and the homeless people who were willingly relocated in their areas.

Hidalgo said the state’s failure to address the problem had created a “chaotic situation” that was fuelling far-right rhetoric.

Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, said: “The housing of homeless people and migrants is down to the state. We do more than our part and have opened places offering urgent accommodation for people who are particularly vulnerable and are our responsibility including families with young children, but we cannot do this alone and it’s not our job.”

He added: “It is not true to suggest there will be the mass expulsion of people from Paris [before the Olympic Games].”