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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « On nous a divisés pour mieux régner »

by Gaëlle David

Paris. Homeless Camp: “They’ve Divided Us To Rule Us Better”

Translated Friday 2 March 2007, by Rebecca Watson

On Monday February 19, among the tents lining the banks of the canal Saint-Martin, the homeless welcomed the return of Augustin Legrand, the activist and actor who initiated the protest camp. They say little has changed since his departure.

There are still just as many tents, and yet more to come. The homeless of the protest camp along the canal Saint-Martin found support in Augustin Legrand and his invitation in December 2006 to those living in secure housing to experience life on the streets in tents along the canal. Now the homeless maintain the encampment - with the intention of keeping it.

“We know only too well that in eight weeks’ time the riot police will drive us out with their batons,” says Ali, a worker with Les Enfants de Don Quichotte, an housing action association founded by Legrand.

The actor has returned from filming in Africa and has said that nothing has changed during his absence.

“What Augustin wants in coming back to the camp is for Vautrin (1) to be sacked. It’s lucky he’s back - it has to be said. He has the charisma that has been missing for several weeks. Things have changed, but they’ve got the better of us.”

Ali opens a tin of sardines, cuts a piece of bread in half, stuffs it with fish and continues: “Okay, so the oldest have been rehomed. But when you say ‘rehomed’, they’ve been put in hotels. The ones who’ve gone are the ones who banged their fists on the table, the leaders of the movement. Basically, they’ve divided us to rule us better.

“Of course we have to change things. We need to start a revolution. I don’t know if getting rid of Vautrin is a good solution. She has no magic wand, and it’s not Borloo (2) who’s going to say: well yeah, she’s rubbish. No, it’s a little bit of everyone’s fault. We’re under a right wing government. Can’t hope they’re going to put someone left wing in now! And yet that’s what we need,” he concludes, swallowing his sardines.

"It’s madness"

Someone has painted Géricault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’ on the lock. It’s a desperate scene where there is, however, hope. “I managed to find somewhere to live in Créteil,” Francis tells Dorian sitting at the back of his tent. “There are still many in hotels, and it’s upsetting. I’m sad it’s continuing. But, at the same time, I’m pleased because I got out of it. It’s not right.”

“Nothing but promises for almost zero effect,” continues a homeless person, a temporary worker who “does nothing but scrape around for whatever I can find.”

“It’s madness. I’ve just been kicked out of a hotel after receiving a letter telling me to leave, so I’ve come back to the canal,” adds another, his hat pulled low, his hands pushed deep into his pockets.

Tents from the Dakar Rally

More homeless people of all nationalities are always arriving. Two hundred tents were supposed to be delivered in the afternoon. “We’re going to be receiving the people repatriated by the 115 (3),” explains a volunteer with Les Enfants de Don Quichotte.

A big car pulls up. Journalists from the television channel France 2 get out two tents. “Tents from the Dakar Rally,” marvel two homeless people putting them up. They gesture towards another canvas, just next to them. “It was people like that who gave it to us one evening.”

The food comes from housing centres and people living along the banks of the river, but according to Ali, they’re “starting to get fed up.” The official report he proposes is grim: “In fact, it’s less than 15 homeless people that truly have been rehomed. When I say truly, I mean in a flat and not in a hotel. In the hotels, there are a lot more of them, but it’s always precarious. Nothing solid. After that it’s promises, always promises.”

Translators’ notes:
(1) Catherine Vautrin: Minister for Social Cohesion and Parity.
(2) Jean-Louis Borloo: Minister of Employment, Work and Social Cohesion.
(3) 115: an emergency telephone number for homeless people in distress.

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