Today, it is pouring rain. Marc, 64, who has been living in the street for twenty years, took refuge inside the St Sulpice church, in the 6th district of Paris. ‘At least here, they allow me to sit inside. It’s not the case in every church…’ Sometimes, he helps by tidying the place, and gets paid in return. Being a Catholic, he often attends mass there. ‘I even used to be an altar boy when I was young. But now, I wonder where heaven is… Is it up there?’ he asks, pointing at the church’s ceiling.
Marc wears a green winter coat and big shoes. His black beard has patches of white hair inside. A couple of plastic bags lie on the floor beneath him. There is a strong smell of pee around him. Born in the Réunion Island, he came to France when he was 20. ‘I still have nieces and nephews there. Next year, I’ll go back there. Why should I stay in France?’ Marc is married with four children, whom he does not see anymore.
Every day, from morning to dusk, thousands of people pass the church’s threshold. ‘This place is almost as famous as Notre-Dame,’ Marc says. ‘You see plenty of tourists, mainly Italians. There are so many of them! And people are quite wealthy in the area…’ When the weather is fine, Marc goes outside, and sits in the open air, in parks, mainly. ‘I pity those who live in 600 m2 flats and don’t even have time to enjoy it.’
He has trouble understanding why his situation has not improved. ‘There are plenty of empty flats in Paris and what about us? We’re still in the street. They’d rather let everything fall to pieces than let us in. Today, anywhere you go, you’re asked to leave, be it in the Tube or under a porch.’
He is interested in politics, ‘just like anybody else,’ and quotes former French Prime minister and presidential contender Lionel Jospin, who said in a 2002 speech that ‘there would be no more homeless people in the streets by 2007.’ ‘It’s sad to say, but that’s not true…They’re all making great promises but nothing happens. Let’s hope things change.’
Marc used to work in several different fields: ‘I just took everything I was offered.’ He remembers that once, while working in the kitchen of a secondary school’s canteen, he went on a skiing trip to Courchevel with the pupils. ‘I would love to go back there… I really had fun!’ he says with a hint of nostalgia. But one day, he was fired and he has never been able to find a regular job since.
Today, he earns the RMI, which amounts to 450 euros every month. With that small sum, he can afford a room in a cheap hotel in the suburbs once or twice a week. The other nights, he either sleeps in the street or in social halls of residence. But Marc does not like them too much, ‘Sometimes, I’m happier to leave them than to enter them!’ Violence and theft are often perpetuated inside the halls.
He does not rely on the public distribution of hot meals as often as before. ‘Sometimes, things turn out badly there, too,’ he says. Looking at his plastic bags, where one can make out a sandwich and a newspaper, he claims, ‘I’ve not chosen to live in the street. No one does it for pleasure.’
Il y a 9 ans