If you don't pay, you leave...

Photography : Guillaume COLLANGES    

It's the second one I've been to. I stayed just two days in the first, because of the cockroaches and fleas. Here, you work in order to buy cockroach traps and insecticides, which I've put everywhere: under the bed, the sink, the wardrobe... I've been here since the 7th of June, I will be leaving soon, if my application is accepted. I'll know by Friday. I've been working temporary stints, and, after 1000 hours of work, you have the right to request social welfare housing. I was employed in June, but I had worked for a year and a half part-time for this company before. It's a lousy life. As a temporary employee, you can't request housing through an agency. The HLM (state housing) people said I could fill in a form, but that there would be a 3 to 4 year wait before I could have an apartment. In the beginning, I wanted to take a shower in the morning, before going to work. The tub was filled with cockroaches, so I had to shower at night. The bathroom is horrendous. If you don't have a tax form, you can't find an apartment. The day I arrived here, they didn't ask me to prove anything, no pay slips, they just wanted to see the money. I am aware that if I stay here, I'm sunk.
I've been here for four years. I prefer to live here since I travel a lot. I'm a painter-decorator, I work for the Louvre, or for museums, in the restoration of works. It's convenient, when I leave, I know that the boss is there to keep an eye on things. The room is enough for me, my whole life is in there. You get used it, you start to feel at home. Before, I was married and I lived in a stand-alone home.
I've been here for three months. An association takes care of it for me, the Aguesseau branch in Boulogne. I did lots of stupid things before. I went through several hostels, there were too many people, I didn't like the atmosphere. Here, there is less pressure. For 50 young people, there are 6 youth workers. To come here, you have to study. I'm in my first year of a BEP in accounting. I'm going to get that diploma, I'm going to have it for breakfast. I don't have a problem with going to school. Diplomas are cool. I want to have good general knowledge, I'll go as far as the baccalauréat. When you work, you're paid at the end of the month, but as an intern you do photocopies, the envelopes or answer calls. But that's
I've been living here for 8 years how, but I don't know anyone in the hotel - it's just hello, good evening... I came to France, to Rouen, on March 1st 1966. I started working two years in Havre, 2 years in Toulon, then eight years in Marseille but part-time. I've been in Paris since July 27th 1991. I work as a material handler in warehouses. I have a wife and daughter - I don't want them to live here as my mother is old and they have to look after her. In Africa, the family is not like it is in France... I have to pay for my daughter's education. I didn't go to school, my father was a grower in Casamance, he didn't have the means. In Senegal, I have to pay for a school in the suburbs of Dakar, as the state schools are full and you need to have contacts if you want to enroll your children there. I don't see anyone in Paris, only my cousins in the suburbs, recently, or my brother in Rouen, when I can afford the train ticket.
I've been living here since January and I've spent the last two years in residential hotels. There was a change in my professional and family life. I work part-time in hospitality. My problem is my age. I'm 52 years old and they want young people, who are more easily exploited. I know all the tricks of the trade. An employer's first words are always 'How old are you?' Fifty-two... and that's that. From a management position, I found myself back at square one. I had 24 employees, lots of work and only Sundays off to rest. My wife had had enough, she left. I lost my job. I drank, took pills... all that... Here, it's 3000 francs per month, but it's comfortable. Hotels like this one are quite rare in Paris. There are some really awful places, with cockroaches. What stops me from having somewhere bigger to live are the home owners - there are not enough guarantees, no stable employer. If I'd lived liked a pauper all my life I wouldn't care, but I like going to the movies, the theatre, having flowers...
I've been here a year now. Before, I spent eight years in another hotel, not far away. I arrived in 1963. I don't like it much, here, if you pay, you stay, if you don't pay, you get out. The walls are dirty, but who can I ask to clean them? Something's not right. I put in an application for housing at the town hall, they gave me the papers to fill in, but since I'm alone... I started workin g in 1964, aged 19, in a workshop, washing cars... you do what you can. It's hard. You see an ad in the paper, you go, and there are several people already at the door. They fight to be the first ones through the door. They shoose young people. It's not like it used to be. There's a little bit left to eat, to live on. There are people who loaf about here. Usually, they let the young people work first, the others come after. In Algeria it's the same situation as in France, over there, there are young educated people who can't find work. Tomorrow, maybe, I won't even have enough to buy a bread stick, or even a piece of bread. I fast like for ramadam. I don't steal, I don't hurt anyone. I just don't have anything, anything. That's how it is.
I've been here for 12 years. I've been a diabetic since 1986. I was a chef, I was married, I had children and now I'm here. I found an apartment for 3800 but I can't. I get 4000 Francs a months. I have diabetes, a bad heart, hypertension, a bit of everything. The doctor said that I shouldn't tire myself on the stairs and I live on the second floor. I spent 12 days in the Salpetriêre Hospital. At 74, I don't really care. With all these medicines - some which put me to sleep, some which make me 'drunk'... I don't have the choice. Anyway, this is no way to live. Never give up. The other day I had a dizzy spell, I couldn't move, I knocked on the door - luckily someone was home. I'm originally from Algeria, I came to France in 1952, before all the events, before everything. I haven't been back since 1986. Even if I go back there, I know noone. Everyone my age has already gone..
I've been living here four months. The assocation 'Petits Frères des Pauvres' found me this room. I was a in rue Sedaine, then I was fired, the company shut down. I'm looking for work but it's always the same reply: too old. I'm 61, I don't yet have enough to recieve a retirement fund. I have to wait another four years. I've been unemployed since November 1998. I was on a benefit for 2 years. It was tough. You have to be cheerful, I try to maintain that. I do my shopping in a social welfare supermarket, it's cheaper... I pay 2500 francs, half of my rent is taken care of by the association. My father is in state housing belonging to the city of Paris, but I couldn't live with him, otherwise he'd lose his benefit. Here, everyone is nice. I've never had any problems with people. I stay positive.
I've been here for 8 years, I'm 66. I worked in masonery. I've been retired for 6 years. Before, I was in Levallois, in another hotel. I used to earn just enough to eat. I get 3000 F in benefits and I pay 1815 F in rent. I'm all alone, I don't know anybody. I asked for a benefit from the council, but they refused, that was three years ago. It's hard, but too bad. The social worker told me about this hotel. Before, I had a 1000 F benefit, but now I only have 700 F and I don't know why. I came here from Italy in 1957, I've been back three times since. Here, it's ok. I won't find anything cheaper.
I've been here for two months. Before, I was in a hotel in Bellville, unfurnished, disgusting. I paid 3200 F, the bed was lopsided, and there was nothing to cook with. Rooms are too expensive. It took me several months to find another one. Here, you can plug in your TV, it's like being at home - there's hot water and you can cook. I was at the DDASS until the age of 21. Later, I found my father and sister, but it didn't work out. I gave my sister a present for her birthday, on mine, she threw me out. My father didn't want to tell me where my mother was, I would like to find her, to know if she's still alive. I was a truck driver, but I had to stop because of my eyes. I was in prison, but that was a long time ago, ten years. After that, I worked part time, but finding work with a criminal record isn't easy. I get the RMI and housing benefit, I pay 3000 F. As long as you have that, that's the main thing. Last year, I spent seven months in the street. After that, the Assocation Petits Frères des Pauvres helped me
We've been here for three years now. When I arrived, there was only a mattress placed on some bricks, and a wardrobe. I applied for housing at the city hall, but I don't earn enough. We're not eligible for the housing benefit either, there are too many of us in this room. I have three little girls and a boy, they go to the school nearby. Here, rent is 3000 F, we pay in cash but now that the DAL helps us, we don't pay anything until we're relocated. For now, I want to find a home for the children. Here, there is no heating, no hot water and the owner can come in whenever she wants. She says this is her place, there are no laws, I am the law. I'm also looking for work. At the ANPE, when I say my name, there's no work. I have French nationality, I was born in Mayotte. Over there, I had problems with my family. My brothers and sisters all went to school, but not me.
I'm married, but my husband threw me out. Because I wanted to throw myself out the window, to kill myself. I spent several months in a psychiatric hospital. I'm a prostitute. My husband put me out on the streets. I'm seropositive, I've stopped my treatment for the last two weeks, but I have to go back on it. I rely 100% on social services. I have a 9 year old daughter, but while I don't have a home, I can't see her. Before, I worked for the council, I was a civil servant. I was a drug addict and I overdosed in the toilets. They fired me. After that, I managed a shop, I even did erotic calls. There are some real head cases, I can tell you. One day, I spoke to a guy on the phone, I was getting him excited and I could hear his son in the background saying... stop, Dad, stop... I was traumatised, I stopped. I had also suffered from sexual abuse as a child. Now, I'm looking for waitressing work, after that, I'll have to find an apartment.
I've been here for a year. Young person's social welfare found me this place. I'm studying electronics at a high school in Bobigny. I have to keep working, at school, that's the main thing: to do your best. Before, I was living in Pantin, at my aunt's place. She is my guardian but it was too small, that's why they found me a room. We lived in a squat, then in a hotel. Now, she lives in a small flat. This place is good, there are people who come to clean the rooms and the lady downstairs is nice. It's great because I can stay here until I'm 21
I've been here for four months. Before, I was in a hotel that was even worse than here. There were springs sticking out of the bed, no hot water... it's terrible to have to pay rent for places like that. Since I've changed hotels, I'm no longer eligible for the housing benefit. The bureaucracy kills me, we're already in dire straits, so with all this slow, paper shuffling along with it... The 'Petits Frères' Association called the CAF - the file was complete, but it was tucked up in a corner... You get really sick of it, having to run around everywhere, so you use tobacco and alcohol to unwind. I know, it's not a great solution... The street - I've been there - it doesn't help, morally or physically. I fell, but I made my way back up... My life has had its ups and downs. I started work at 13, in the fields. We had a tough upbringing. At 17, I finished my apprenticeship, I came to Parisand worked for 25 years in a pastry shop. And it wasn't 35 hours per work, more like 50 or 60, with only one day of rest. After that, I divorced. I held out for a year, then I had money problems... that's when the fall happened. I spent three years on the street. With noone to talk to, no human relationships... it mucks everything up. I tried to get myself back on track. When you're not active, it's not good. I knew some guys on the street who had been engineers or architects. It can happen to anyone. I don't want to go back there, especially not at my age.
I arrived here in 1996. The préfecture led us here. The old hotel was going to be renovated. The council was going to relocate us. I wrote a letter, the mayor met with me, I dropped off the applications and still nothing happened. Your file is being processed... I have a whole stock of letters like that. Here, it's hopeless... during the winter, they cut off our heating and hot water. We installed electric heaters but the fuses blow regularly. Each time a man from the council came to check on our complaints, the owner put the heating back on. She has someone to tip her off at the council. You can imagine the cold, especially for the children. Here, the corridors are painted with lead-based paint and you get a shock when you touch the fridge or the gas stove. Since the DAL has been here, a man from the council came, he said that nothing was up to standard, he couldn't understand why this place was still open for business. I work, I don't ask for charity, I just want a home. My wife also works, we can pay the rent, we earn around 11 000 F between us. Here, there is no bathroom, no shower. We wash in the toilets, on the landing. We sleep in the same bed with the children. It's not a life, we don't live - we just hold ourselves upright. In Africa, people unite - if someone has something left to eat, they'll give you some. You have to have a heart. I send a little money back to my family, so they can live better. You have to help people who are in trouble.
I've been here 8 months. I came to France in 1997. I was in retail in Africa. I went to Gabon, Benin, Burkina, Cameroon, Nigeria... I left Mali to work where I was given an offer. I requested a French visa to come to ger the merchandise, but I had a problem with my associate: he left with the money. I asked for my papers to be regularized, but I was turned down. My wife came to join me anyway. We came here to try our luck. Without papers, you can't work, but we do what we can to find little jobs here and there, to earn a crust. I work as a cleaner, on shifts. I pay 2500 F in rent. The council granted us free medical care for my wife's pregnancy and they told us that we'd be relocated. But, if we have no choice, we'll go to another residential hotel.
I stayed for 27 months in this hotel, with my 5-year old daughter. Before, I had a partner but we separated. I was really shaken up by the fight with my partner. The social workers placed me in a hostel. I met some nice people, so I said to myself that people in difficulty weren't necessarily crooked. I received the solo parent benefit for one year, then the RMI. It is really tough because before, I never had to ask for help. I came to France to take stock of my health, because of my diabetes, and I stayed. At first, I wanted to go back to school but it was too expensive. So I did odd jobs. In Algeria I was a French teacher. As a woman, having a job with responsibility, being single and living alone - all that isn't compatible. Men coming from rural areas weren't used to dealing with a woman. Traditions take a long time to change. I have cousins in France, but I find it degrading to invite them to my hotel, frequented by transvestites and prostitutes. It was hard, but I didn't give them any news, my pride was hurt. I used to speak literary French, but now, I've lost a lot. Problems reduce people to mediocrity.
I got out of prison 4 months ago. An association found me this room, they paid for the first month then I took over. I'm not going to spend my whole life in 10 square metres, but at least here there are no bars. I have my key on me. I was a legionnaire for five years in Chad, Lebanon, Bangui, Gao, Niamey, Mayotte... Four years after I left the army, I went down for murder. I got ten years. Now, I'm looking for work as a mover, but as soon as the employers know that I've been in prison, it's not easy. For part-time work, they don't pay so much attention, they don't ask about your criminal record. Sometimes, I go to the 'Restos du coeur' or to a bar where the boss gives me free meals - at 'Chez Mama', they're really nice. Here, there's too much noise, I get jumpy. I take neuroleptics and antidepressants. I started them in prison, three years ago. It's a life-long treatment. I converted to Protestantism in prison, by my own choice, by reading the bible. I pray, three times a day, for world peace. It helped me to cope with detention.
An association, Estron, is paying my room for one month. After that, I don't know where I'll go. I'm a drug addict, my wife died of an overdose at 25. It took me two years to get over it - it was thanks to her that my papers were made official. I was the one who messed up - I'm an addict, I did nothing, didn't work... I've been in prison twice, for three years in all. For theft and recidivism, it's as though you didn't understand the first time. In prison you can find anything you want: Subutex, Valium... They're happy to give it to you, because that way you stay calm. I'm a forklift driver, I got my licence in prison. I left my references with several temping agencies but they still haven't called me. In Morocco, I get off it, straight - without needing to take anything - but as soon as I come back, I get back on. I'm trying to give up, but lately, I've been stupid. I'm lost. The main thing I need is work, it would keep me busy. My environment and problems aren't helping. I've had enough, too much of my life has been wasted. With drugs, as soon as you take it you already regret it.
I've been here for three months. I'm 37 years old, I rented an apartment until I was 33, since then, I've lived in a hotel. I'm a programmer analyst, I work in Paris, sometimes in other regions in France. I often changed work place because there was a lot of demand, what with the euro and Y2K. Here, the mail is in my name, I don't mention the hotel's name because for employers, living in a hotel isn't considered stable. But it's more flexible than renting an apartment. The cleaning is done once a week, you can cook, have friends over... Apart from the kitchen and the shower, I don't see any difference with a small studio. Later, I'll get an apartment. For my son, it'll be better. In these hotels, there are all kinds of problems - I've seen caved-in floors, peeling wall paper, terrible beds... The area is nice and cosmopolitan - people get along well, there is mutual respect here.
I've been here for 10 years and my son, for 11. I'm 75 years old. I'd like to find something else. At the time, I tried to request an apartment at the city hall, but there were endless queues, I gave up. Before, I lived in a four room apartment with my husband, until I was 55. My children stayed, I was no longer the head of my household. After that, I lived with my sister for five years, then I ended up here. Lately I've been ill, the social worker called me in. They took my details, even a studio would do. My son is single, he works in construction. All day long, I go from his room to mine and back again. I have my meals with him. I do his laundry and ironing and clean his room. Sometimes, I take a walk as far as République, looking at the shops, getting some air. In the holidays, we go together. I raised his little girl. She gets along fine. Now, she has a little studio and a job. I didn't want to stay here, but the years go by and we're still here. I've always been very robust, but now, my health is starting to decline. I had a career as a saleswoman in the Galeries Lafayette. I'm Parisian. In the countryside, I get bored, I'm too used to the hectic pace of Paris. I lead a sad empty life; every day is the same.