The homeless in France

CC gelinh

It is difficult to count people who have no home, especially if they have no place of shelter at all and are sleeping in the street. To learn more about them, INSEE and INED conducted several surveys with users of shelters and free meal services. The surveys have found a considerable increase in the number of homeless in France since 2001.

For survey purposes, a homeless person was defined as anyone who spent the night preceding the survey interview in a shelter (collective facility, hotel room, or housing facility paid for by an association) or a place not intended or equipped for dwelling.

Increasing numbers of homeless people

According to estimates from the joint INSEE-INED 2012 Homeless survey  (Enquête auprès de personnes fréquentant les services hébergement ou de distributions de repas), there were at least 141,500 homeless persons living in metropolitan France in early 2012. This represents an increase of nearly 50% over the 2001 figure of approximately 93,000.

In cities and towns of at least 20,000 people, 81,000 homeless adults accompanied by a total of 30,700 children were using services for homeless people, according to the 2012 survey. The greater Paris region alone accounts for 44% of homeless people; shelter conditions there are more precarious than elsewhere in the country.

38% of the homeless are women. The majority of homeless people live alone (62% are single and childless).

Over half of homeless persons—55%—were born outside France. Persons in this group are more often accompanied by children (23,700 of the 30,700 children counted were with foreign-born adults) than persons born in France.

One homeless person in ten goes unsheltered

The survey was conducted in January and February 2012. The night before the interview, nearly half of the 66,300 French-speaking homeless persons interviewed had slept in a collective shelter. One-third had spent the night in a housing unit provided by a charitable association or organization and 12% in a paid hotel room, which in many cases they had shared with several family members. Overall, women enjoy more stable shelter conditions than men.

One homeless person in ten had not been sheltered at all the night before the interview, meaning that he or she had slept in a space not intended or equipped for sleeping or living. Almost all persons in this category were men. On the eve of the survey, one in five had spent the night outdoors; the rest had found refuge in covered spaces (building entryways, parking lots), a public place (railroad or subway station) or whatever other somewhat sheltered spot they could find. Nearly half said they did not wish to go to an established shelter, citing poor hygiene and safety conditions.

One-fourth of homeless people in France work

Approximately one-fourth of French-speaking homeless persons are regularly employed or do odd jobs, but the vast majority are jobless, many longstandingly so, or unoccupied (retirees, undocumented persons, asylum-seekers). Homeless persons who do work are generally in precarious, low-skilled jobs.

Difficult life stories

Two in five French-speaking homeless persons said they had never had their own place of residence. Others explained that they had had to leave home due to a conjugal separation or inability to pay rent or occupancy costs.

Most had had painful childhoods: more than half had had a sick or disabled parent or seen a parent die, one-fourth had been victims of violence or abuse. One French-born homeless person in four had been placed in a foster home or halfway house. 

Online : March 2015