Not in my backyard: Posh Parisians rebel against homeless shelter

Moonarchitectures / Handout / AFP | A computer generated image shows a planned homeless shelter near the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

Plans to open a homeless shelter in a wealthy Paris neighbourhood have sparked outrage among residents, with tempers exploding at an unruly public meeting this week and France's prime minister wading into the controversy.


“Nothing can justify insults and threats against representatives of the state,” an exasperated Manuel Valls, France’s prime minister, told parliament on Tuesday. “I want to make clear the determination of the state to see this project carried out.”

He was referring to plans to build a temporary homeless shelter, scheduled to open before the summer, that would provide housing for 200 people for a period of three years next to the Bois de Boulogne park in the affluent 16th arrondissement of Paris.

While new developments among the ornate and ancient buildings of the French capital are often met with local opposition, objection to the planned shelter in the southwest of the city has been particularly fierce and turned ugly at a raucous public meeting to discuss the building plans on Monday evening.

The architect of the shelter, Guillaume Hannoun, was labeled a “liar” by angry residents. City official Sophie Brocas was branded a “bitch”.

Chants of “Hidalgo resign”, referring to the Socialist Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, could be heard coming from the crowd of around 800 packed into the amphitheatre at the Paris Dauphine University that played host to the meeting, as well as among a similar number gathered outside, according to a report in France’s Le Figaro newspaper.

‘Watching TV and eating caviar’

To cheers from the crowd, the mayor of the 16th arrondissement, Claude Goasguen, of the centre-right Les Républicains party, denounced the decision to go ahead with the project as a “diktat” from Hidalgo issued without consultation.

"There will be demonstrations, recourse to the courts," he warned. "The people of the 16th are renowned for sitting on their arses, watching TV and eating caviar, but they defend their interests like anyone else.”

The meeting was finally shut down early over security fears.

On Tuesday, an indignant Valls said he had been “deeply shocked” by the vitriol on show at the meeting.

Hidalgo was also “outraged” by Monday’s meeting, Ian Brossat, her deputy in charge of social housing, told AFP. “Violence and insults are unacceptable,” he said.

Objections to the shelter among the inhabitants of the 16th, known as one of the favourite places of residence for the city’s rich and famous, are numerous and varied.

“I voted for Hidalgo,” one man told France’s Le Monde newspaper. “But the site for homeless people will lower the price of my apartment.”

Others raised safety concerns as well as the general effect on the neighbourhood’s upper class aesthetic.

The homeless and “their dogs” will “put up their tents” in the local area, one woman at Monday’s meeting told French daily Libération. The shelter would discourage people from “coming to walk with their children in the Bois de Boulogne”, she said.

‘Build it in Calais’

Some are worried about the centre being used to house migrants and refugees, despite the continued insistence by authorities that this will not be the case.

Goasguen dubbed the shelter a "Sangatte in the Bois de Boulogne”, referring to the town in Calais in northern France that became famous for its controversial refugee camp.

“Build it in Calais”, another man was heard shouting during Monday’s meeting, according to Libération.

Another frequently used argument against the homeless shelter is the environmental impact of the structure on the neighbouring Bois de Boulogne, a protected area.

But not all in the 16th arrondissement are against the plans. A number of supporters of the shelter braved Monday’s meeting to put forward their point of view.

“It is we, the rich, who must help the poor,” said one local resident in his 50s, though he admitted that “even my wife says that they will butcher our children. It’s the same reaction every time they try to build social housing in the 16th”.

Valls also suggested it was time for the 16th to do its fair share.

“More than 30,000 people are given shelter (in Paris) each day by 78 homeless shelters but none exist in the 16th arrondissement,” he said Tuesday.

“The opening [of the shelter] in June is an essential part of sharing the burden so that the housing of people in hardship is not concentrated only in working class areas.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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