Sunday, July 13, 2008

Paris, Pride, Velibs and the Homeless.

July 13, 2008

An article in today’s New York Times mirrors one that appeared in the London Times within the last week. It is about the free (or nearly free) bicycles that are all over Paris and which appear to be used mostly by locals for everything to commuting to shopping. There is money to be made by someone of course, and there are problems with vandalism, theft and an increase of bicycle accidents, but overall it seemed an innovative and good thing as I spent a fabulous week in the Marais with Sage, Alexander, Joanna and Ruthie.

Our visit coincided with the Parisian Gay Pride festivities which seemed to center on the Marais to some extent. We didn’t see the march but witnessed thousands of post-marchers making their way wherever they were going down the Rue St. Antoine (where we were staying). This was the predictable excuse for those with a need for public exhibitionism to do their thing and it was not without entertainment value as we ate our supper. What really struck me however was how little pride these marchers seemed to take in the city through which they were marching. The levels of trash they left behind them were the real obscenity of the day.

Somehow that must be related to the vandalism and theft of the velibs. Perhaps also to the ubiquitous smell of urine in every alley, street corner, along the river or otherwise in any place where a homeless person might sleep. I noticed that the homeless tended to be loners rather than setting up in groups. But Paris also has a pretty good system of free public lavatories. They must be more trouble than they are worth to people who seem to have little or no sense of belonging or mutual regard. Perhaps the anonymous, public ‘city’ is an appropriate object of blame for anyone with a grievance and therefore not something in which to take pride. It sounds a bit like Atlanta.

Or closer to home, it sounds a bit like All Saints’ Church as we wonder if there is alternative to heavy policing of those who would sleep in our steps but who seem incapable of self regulation. They leave their trash (which is mostly harmless) but also evidence of drug and alcohol abuse and the smell of urine around the entrances to our place of worship and our cemetery. Ideas and thoughts on this are welcome. Richard Hall has pulled together a group who has spent a large part of some nights out trying to establish some relationship with those who sleep on our steps (and would welcome additional volunteers) and encourage some self regulation, but while we haven’t given up, the signs are that this is not enough to bring about change in the behavior of ‘our’ street people.

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