Q – My husband and I have just returned from a week in Paris. We were rather amazed at the number of homeless people on the streets. We had been there in 1994 and it was nothing like this. The smell of urine is everywhere and people are just setting up cots on the sidewalks all over the city. You should tell your readers about this as it really impacted our memories of Paris on this trip. You go to Paris for the perfume – not this! Any idea why this is happening?
A – It is a problem, but we still rank Paris as one of the planet’s most beautiful cities. The fact is that homelessness in France has doubled in the past decade, the result of a shrinking economy and an influx of poor immigrants who can’t find work. Our experience is that most of the homeless are in the main tourist areas looking for handouts. Part of the explanation as to why this is more of a problem in Paris than it is, say, in London has to do with cultural attitudes toward begging and homelessness. Under London law, you cannot stay in one place in the street all day and sleep there in a tent etc. It is against the law. There is no criminalization of homelessness in Paris. In fact, studies in Europe have shown that the French are the most tolerant of the down and out because they have this deep-seated feeling that it could, one day, happen to them.