Pascale Dietrich-Ragon

INED researcher tells us about her study of homeless immigrants and descendants of immigrants in France.

(Interview from May 2017)

What initial observations led you to conduct a survey on this particular group?

I chose to study this group because, as we learn from the 2012 French Homeless Survey (Enquête Sans-Domicile), the proportion of persons of foreign origin among France’s homeless population rose from 38% in 2001 to 53% in 2012. I drew on data from that survey to analyse the residential trajectories of men and women who migrated to France or whose parents migrated to France.

How is that group’s situation different from the situation of homeless people from the country’s majority population?

To begin with, their socio-demographic profiles are very different. The population that migrated to France includes more women, is younger and has more families with children. The groups’ trajectories are also quite distinct. Respondents from the majority population (defined as French-born with two parents born in France, including in the country’s overseas departments and territories) have generally experienced loss of their residence; this is much less the case for migrants, many of whom have never had their own residence in France. For French-born homeless, then, life events are usually what led to residential loss, whereas for homeless persons of foreign background, the problem is more one of gaining initial access to the French rental market. One reason many cannot do so is their undocumented status. Moreover, illiteracy can be an obstacle to carrying out the relevant administrative procedures. Many migrants find themselves in situations of extreme destitution due to their isolation within French society. And yet despite these difficulties, they are less marginalized than majority-population homeless: more tend to be working and they are in better health.
Within the immigrant population, diverse trajectories have led to homelessness. For some it was the particular moment they arrived in France. Their residential insecurity follows on considerable difficulties that began before they migrated, and it is often related to their undocumented status. Others, particularly persons in urban contexts where affordable housing is in short supply, have gone without their own place to live for years and find themselves confined to the institutional accommodation system. The third case is migrants who once had housing in France but lost it, often due to life event such as job loss or marital breakdown.

Are cases of homeless migrants or descendants of migrants treated differently from those of majority-population homeless?

My study highlights the fact that residential insecurity hits migrants and their descendants particularly hard. When it comes to institution-provided accommodation, the treatment they receive is quite different than for majority-population homeless. Migrant men are much more likely to be left on the street and migrant women to be sent to emergency accommodation that is less conducive to integration. Moreover, among migrants, women with children are given priority, as are relatively educated persons and persons who are relatively well integrated on the job market. Conversely, highly precarious migrants are offered precarious solutions that reduce their possibilities for becoming integrated into French society. The conclusion, then, is that assistance service responses to the homeless in France are not uniform.