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Finding a roof, “priority” for the homeless in a cold snap

Ⓒ AFP – CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT – | A homeless man sleeps in the cold, on the asphalt, in Paris on December 2, 2017

“It’s good, you have a place”: Samira Ben Bekhti, head of marauding at the Red Cross, announces the good news to Omar. He will sleep in an emergency shelter of Samu Social, in the heat of cold in Paris.

With the cold, finding accommodation is the “priority”, says Ms. Ben Bekhti, volunteer. “Even if it’s a night, it’s a lot.”

On Friday night, another volunteer, Mila, brings a tea and a sandwich to Omar, wrapped in a sleeping bag as a blanket.

After a few words exchanged and the promise of a new pair of glasses soon, the five volunteers of the section of the ninth arrondissement of the Red Cross continue their marauding.

Three times a week, the team travels around the neighborhood to bring warm meals, clothes, hygiene kits and comfort to the homeless, and dials 115 for those who want emergency accommodation.

Ile-de-France has about 80,000 places of accommodation, emergency and permanent, according to Eric Pliez, president of Samu Social.

“A thousand additional places must open for the whole winter, as well as 600 places in case of very cold weather,” says Mr. Pliez to AFP. But he is worried: by “end of December”, “less than 500” will be open.

Ⓒ AFP – JACQUES DEMARTHON – | Red Cross members prepare for rounds to help homeless people and distribute food on December 1, 2017 in Paris

From Wednesday to Thursday morning, 778 people, including 286 children, have not found an emergency shelter in the capital, according to the latest figures available, provided to AFP by Samu Social. During these 24 hours, some 1,600 calls were made to 115 for only 278 places to be distributed.

– “I am sometimes ashamed” –

“Our role is to create links, to fight against exclusion,” says Sofiane Bekhedda, a volunteer for a year and a half at the Red Cross. “The street wears out very quickly, you have to be benevolent and show them that they are not alone”.

A little further to the Grands Boulevards, José, 42, warms up on a ventilation grid, with the soup that Mohamed gives him and a piece of roast chicken still hot offered by a passerby. “The Parisians are generous, there is an extraordinary solidarity,” says Samira Ben Bekhti.

The maraud then crosses the path of two Roma families: tea and cakes for children, scarves and food for the parents. Thanks to the 115, they will spend all night in the shelter.

Volunteers do not bring only human warmth and meals. They also give advice on administrative procedures.

Ⓒ AFP – JACQUES DEMARTHON – | Red Cross members distribute food to homeless people on December 1, 2017 in Paris

Without address, Cristian, a 41-year-old Romanian, could not sign his contract for a job in the building. On a sheet of paper, Samira gives him the coordinates of a Red Cross center that can serve as a domiciliation. “I am sometimes ashamed, but they are good, they give me coffee,” he says.

Sofiane finds the words to comfort him. “We are an ear to listen to them,” says the volunteer. “By seeing us, they are beginning to release their word, which allows us to track our beneficiaries,” says Samira.

According to Samu Social, it would take 3,000 additional emergency accommodation places: “80% of calls were satisfied two years ago,” according to Éric Pliez. “Today it’s less than 20%”.

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