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Paris officials sleep outdoors to call attention to homelessness

As many as 20 people have died on the streets of the Paris region since the turn of the year.

Around two dozen officials from the Paris region have spent a night outdoors amid Siberian weather conditions to call attention to the plight of the homeless.

On waking up early on Thursday near Paris’ Austerlitz train station, the officials from an array of political parties were greeted by a city blanketed with snow.

Mama Sy, deputy mayor of Etampes, south of Paris, said the reason she and others braved the conditions was to declare that the situation cannot continue.

At least 13 homeless people have died in the Paris region since the start of the year. The count is not exact because some organisations include the homeless who die in a hospital or emergency housing, with all groups saying the real number will never be known and could be higher.

Ms Sy reckons the number could be 20.

President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes that anyone without shelter will be off the streets of France by the end of 2017 clearly has not materialised – and it is a bigger problem than he seemed to realise.

Homeless people sleep under a bridge (AP)

Paris is no stranger to homeless people. Decades ago, homeless men stretched out on a bench were part of the Paris scenery.

Today, the numbers have swelled and include tens of thousands of migrants, Roma Gypsies or the long-term homeless. Some, less visible, sleep in cars.

Ms Sy, the organiser of the sleep-out, said “it’s out of the question” that 6,000 people lodged in places opened for the homeless due to the frigid weather be returned to the streets when temperatures rise next week.

“Before thinking, we protect,” she said. “We secure our citizens. After that we think of solutions. We don’t do the opposite.”

The group, who wore blue, white and red sashes to denote France’s national colours and their official status, walked around the neighbourhood and spoke to homeless people in tents near the train station before finding somewhere to lay down in their sleeping bags for the night.

Abdelsalem Hitache, a deputy mayor of Le Blanc-Mesnil, a working class town north of Paris, found a spot with colleagues on a busy street corner, over a Metro grate. It was minus 2C.

He said he felt “just like people who sleep outside (permanently) … For me, it’s a night. For them, it’s a life”.

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