Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ring in the homeless

It's an election year in France, so the holes in the safety net are ready to be exploited:

From a tent city for Paris street dwellers to a mock "ministry" for the homeless set up in a giant squat, a snowballing campaign in favour of France's down-and-out has thrust the issue centre-stage ahead of presidential elections in April.

Spurred into action by the headline-grabbing campaign, politicians of all stripes -- including the presidential frontrunners Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal -- have been lining up with pledges to tackle the plight of the country's estimated 100,000 homeless people.

In his New Year's address to the nation, President Jacques Chirac promised the government would act in the coming weeks to create a legal right to housing -- one of the key demands of a charter drawn up by the protestors.

....This week eight struggling families, along with several pressure groups, moved into a vacant office block near the Paris stock exchange, creating a giant squat that is to serve as headquarters for the protest movement -- which has since widened to the broader question of decent housing for all.

Campaigners have dubbed the squatted building the "ministry for the housing crisis," which they blame on rising speculation in the property market.

According to the charity Emmaus, one million people in France do not have a home of their own: 100,000 sleep rough, while the rest live in campsites, hotels or shelters. Another two million people are struggling with housing "problems".

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