Pandemic silver lining: Empty Paris hotel shelters the homeless

Reuters

Posted at Dec 03 2020 07:01 PM

Asylum-seeker Ibrahim stands in his room at the Hotel Avenir Montmartre in Paris, France, Dec. 2, 2020. The hotel, deserted by tourists due to COVID-19 travel bans opens its 42 rooms to the city's homeless for 12 months with the help of French charity association Emmaus Solidarite. Charles Platiau, Reuters

PARIS — In normal times the Hotel Avenir Montmartre is a tourist magnet with its views of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur church, but COVID-19 has scared off the usual guests. Instead, the hotel has opened its doors to the homeless.

The hotel's management have, for a year, handed over their rooms to homeless charity Emmaus Solidarite, which is now using them to accommodate people who would otherwise be on the streets.

If it were not for his room at the hotel, Ibrahim, an asylum seeker from the West African country of Mali, would be bedding down in the restaurant kitchens where he picks up occasional work, or failing that, outdoors.

"When I had just arrived (in Paris), I didn't know anyone. I was moving around temporary housing, sometimes I slept in the kitchen, or beside the garbage can," he said.

"Some days I find a small job, and I earn about 40 euros, 30 euros, 50 euros and I go out. When I find these jobs, I pay for a hotel, which costs 30 euros, to spend the night. But I can't do this all my life."

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At the Hotel Avenir Montmartre, the cost of his room is covered by the charity. Residents receive three meals a day in the hotel's breakfast room, and each room has a television and an en suite shower room.

For the charity, the hotel provides a safe base from which they can try to help rebuild residents' lives. The charity is covering the cost with government aid.

Many residents have physical or mental illnesses from living on the street and the trauma they have experienced, said Emmaus general director Bruno Morel. The charity aims to help them break the cycle of homelessness, he said.

"The day I arrived, I said, great!" Ibrahim said of the hotel. "I see the future. The day will come when my life will change."

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