No Time For Adventures

Imagine the President talking about Homelessness on New Years. Not George – Jacques – Jacques Chirac. This from the International Herald Tribune,

Dozens of otherwise well-housed, middle-class French people have been spending nights in tents along the canal in solidarity with the country’s growing number of “sans domicile fixe,” the French euphemism for people living on the street.

The bleak yet determinedly cheerful sleep-in is meant to embarrass the French government into doing something about the problem.

“Each person should have the minimum dignity in a country as rich as this,” said Bleunwenn Manrot, a 28-year-old woman with a newsboy cap on her head and a toothbrush in her hand. Manrot drove more than six hours with friends from her home in Carhaix, Brittany, to spend New Year’s Eve along the canal.

The demonstration has drawn enough media attention over the holidays for President Jacques Chirac to acknowledge it Sunday during his traditional New Year’s address to the nation. He asked the government to work in the coming weeks to “put in place a truly enforceable right to housing” that would give the homeless the legal means to demand a place to live.

Interesting are the statistics. The article goes on to mention the factoid that in France there were a total of about 86,000 “people living without a fixed address” in all of France. This is approximately equal to the total number of homeless in Los Angeles. I call this a factoid because it really doesn’t relay any information. We have to look at the total population in LA or better LA county (approx. 11 million, US Census) and the total French population (approx 61 million, CIA factbook). Thus the homeless rate in France might be around 18% of US levels. But remember, Unlike LA, Paris has almost 20 percent of the French population and probably the highest per capita homelessness in France. If one assumes a population of around 11 million in and around the Ile de France (Institute for Urban Planning and Development of the Paris Ile-De-France Region) than the numbers slide a little closer to the LA score.

Nevertheless, homelessness in America is far worse than in the much more socialist European countries. Both the social pressure and the political response show a far different reaction to homelessness than currently being presented in America.

Kevin Barbieux, the Homeless Guy has an excellent description of what homelessness is like in America right now He has a long post about the Room In The Inn (RITI) shelter program where churches try to make sleeping room available during the winter months.

Last night was Tuesday night, and that always means Cathedral of the Incarnation for Room In The Inn. There just happens to be an article able Cathedral and their RITI program in today’s Tennessean Cathedral is one of the shining jewels of the Room In The Inn (RITI) shelter program. There are some 150 churches providing shelter for the homeless through RITI, each with it’s own gifts and resources. Some are very big churches with thousands of members, and others are very small, with less than 100 churches. So, the experiences at the different churches can vary widely. Sometimes it seems like you’ve entered inauguration ball for the president of the united states, and other times you’ve entered a quiet family dinner. And depending on what kind of person you are, you may have a preference between one or the other. As the bible says, when you do for the poor, you are actually doing for Jesus. So some churches treat you like royalty – yet other churches, not so much. Sometimes the homeless kid around about creating a 5 Star rating system, like triple A has for hotels. The thing that seems to stick out to most homeless people, about what rates a church high on their preferences, is the personal contact they have with the volunteer church members. When the volunteers reach out and treat the homeless like real friends and family, treat them with love and respect, those churches rate higher, regardless of other aspects. A church may serve mediocre food, it may not have shower or laundry facilities, it may not even keep the heat on in the building over night, but with church people surrounding you with love, you can’t go wrong. “How ya feelin’?” “Hows your week been?” “Read any good books lately?” Nothing’s better than being treated like a normal person by people who genuinely care.

He goes on to discuss how the system works from the homeless perspective. Not a terribly appealing prospect. It also details exactly why the homeless always seem to have that annoying cough that some find so disturbing in busses or parks.

For the past several years, support groups have collected and given tents to the homeless in France. (Of course the weather in Europe isn’t even close to most of the winters in the US. Snow has become a rarity and this year in Dortmund there have only been a handful of frost mornings. Yes. It’s that warm.)

Naturally the RITI program is better than nothing. And it is far better than just wishing that the the problem would go away. But even the IDEA of a ‘right to a roof’ would be a neo-con nightmare. Can you picture Bush suggesting something like this? Can you even picture Nancy Pelosi arguing that this might be a good idea?

But Jacques Chirac, the French president did exactly that during his New Years speech. The law is already on the books, but he wants action. He raised homelessness to one of the major campaign issues spurred on by people like this.

No wonder the French didn’t have time for Iraqi adventures. They were too busy trying to solve domestic problems. The Americans found time to invade and rename Freedom Fries. Makes you think doesn’t it.

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