Words by Thomas Subreville
Photos by Silvio Magaglio
Everyone who has been in Paris recently has certainly encountered the tents set up on sidewalks throughout the streets. No, it isn’t the “Paris Plage” annex camping ground, and their inhabitants are not enjoying vacations, breathing in the fresh air mixed with the fumes of car exhaust.
Those 300 tents were distributed last winter by Medecins Du Monde, a French humanitarian medical organization, to keep the homeless a little bit safer from the rude winter cold. In this particular campsite, campers come more from Eastern Europe than Scandinavia, the aperitif is taken with vitriolic wine in plastic bottles bought at the corner discount store, barbecues are made directly on the floor with tree branches, and people are wearing scuffed shoes—not because of the laid back style, but because they are usually too small. This urban campsite has no kitchen sink to wash the dishes, no common bath, and no multi-use room to organize sing alongs or arts and crafts.
The tents appeared to be a great idea for everyone, until the spring came and the homeless didn’t want to move out. The Parisian residents quickly tired of seeing the homeless campers getting drunk, throwing their empty bottles into the street, and using the sidewalk as a restroom. But are the tents really the problem? Weren’t the homeless shitting before they got tents? No, the controversy is more due to the fact that every tent set up in Paris is in a way a flashing sign, reminding everyone that real misery is closer than we expect, even here at home in the sixth-largest economic world power…