It was the morning after a long, summery night spent reading. Barely a few hours had passed. At nine o’clock on Thursday, the 28th of July, someone started banging on the door as my heart began to pound. I instantly knew. I had feared that moment since the 30th of April. Deep down, I was holding on to a tiny thread of hope that all the pieces would finally fall into place. After a few minutes of discussion, it would all be sorted out.
And yet, it all came crashing down. Within two hours, it would all come to an end. Nineteen years, sixteen years, a lifetime there. What for? A so-called mistake in the process? Or multi-billion euro companies run by individualistic elected representative’s only concerned about their wage premium. Whatever the mistake they had made, we were evicted of our social housing. Because who cares about long-lasting ill parents filling in any social form possible? Well, no one apparently. Ever since my mother couldn’t work anymore, a few years already, my parents have been struggling to pay the rent. There were financial support programs, and lastly a record file for the Bank of France for debt cancellation, which in the month of July had eventually been granted. And yet, in spite of all of this, no one seemed to care. Not the bailiff, nor the policemen, or anyone else.
This day was marked by moral violence. My parents’ tears, my sister’s anger, my own fears. It all came intermingled with sky-high uncertainty. Was the hardest part to leave — and realize that it’s in those moments that friends can offer you both material and emotional support — or was it to face the doubtful future coming ahead of us? I couldn’t tell.
The policemen didn’t want to hear a word. The process was launched and they could not back off. People were saying that they were ‘just doing their job’. Witnessing injustice in front of my very eyes, I promised myself that I would never do a job which entails such unfair acts. How can depriving people of a place to stay still possible in 2016?
Seeing the movers packing more brutally than delicately our belongings, we were wondering what would happen next. I remember leaving the building with my sister crying, when one of the movers told us he was very sorry and that it wasn’t his fault. To notice an ounce of humanity during the storm felt relieving.
Perhaps, the event occurring in front of us would do us more good than harm. Perhaps, something better was coming out of it and the chaotic chapters that had come to life in this place were ultimately coming to an end. I could only hope so.
And the verdict fell. Teary-eyed, my mother’s friend, who had helped us all along the trembling day, announced us what would happen next. We would most-probably be going from emergency hotels to emergency hotels, and somehow the city’s representatives would realize the help that we crucially needed. The next weeks and months were uncertain.
There was shame and there was fear. ‘Who could I ever confide in? What’s happened to us is shameful, I have to hide. No one would understand’ I thought endlessly. At the same time, you don’t wish that anyone else has to go through it. And it is true, indeed, that unless you’ve been in these shoes, you will never fully understand. But that is not people’s fault, and you should definitely not refrain from opening up to someone you trust. Put away the shame. I kept it all to myself for two days. It was overwhelming. The only person I could confide in was my family — when all I really needed was to get the hell out of this awful environment filled with negative energy.
And it went on and on. Confined in a room for three persons in an emergency shelter, we were paying attention not to come stumble upon we knew in the area. We were spending hours doing paperwork day by day or at the town hall. I discovered the painful reality behind social housing, and poverty in general, in France, shell-shocked to learn hidden facts about the individualistic and all-too-corrupted society we live in. We were writing letters to ministers, representatives and even got a response from the President of the Republic. Was this even real? We were struggling to find meals to eat in our hotel room — sandwiches, Chinese rice, sandwiches…Nevertheless, we were grateful to have a roof over our heads, even for an indefinite period of time, because we knew what it was like to lose it. Four months stuck in that room.
Moving away willingly is very different from being evicted. There will always be those memories, be it painful or cheerful, when coming back in this area, these streets.
This was certainly the most traumatizing day of my life, so far. Had I ever thought I’d fit in the ‘homeless’, or sans domicile fixe, category? Certainly not. And as much as I blame life to be unfair, I can’t deny the fact that, to this day, it has taught me a lot. I can’t say that if I had the power to change the past, I wouldn’t erase this 28th day of July, because I most likely would do anything for it not to happen. And yet, I am grateful for all I’ve learned during these troubling times.
How could I forget about the caring of my family’s friends and of our neighbors? I met some genuinely good-hearted, selfless people. I discovered the radiating generosity of mere acquaintances, discussing with them things I never thought I could share with anyone else other than myself — age really is nothing and ‘writing is therapeutic’. Friends’ uttermost kindness is one of the most important value to cherish.
I spent more time wandering in the streets of Paris than ever before, walking around the posh areas of Paris, where people rather liked to take selfies in front of Ferrari’s rather than giving an ounce of their time to people asking for one buck. And yet, I cannot forget the image of my mother approaching families sleeping on the streets giving them the last coins in her pocket or the leftovers of our meals in order not to throw them away. It has made me more sensitive to homelessness and I have realized that I want to act, unlike our representatives who seem to only care about their high wages despite their letters of support. I have witnessed injustice and I want to fight it. France possesses enough means to take care of refugees and French homeless citizens. Both issues are equally solvable if only the people were not turning a blind eye to the reality that is poverty in 2016 France. If only there was as many people willing to recognize the issue and help as the number of people watching reality TV shows of people making money, or other television trash programs, whilst channels are pressured to censure documentaries on poverty.
This rough period has taught me genuine kindness, generosity, and human connection. Do not throw away, give away. Offer emotional support if you can’t offer anything else, it remains one of the most powerful kinds of help. Be human. Do not judge. Tables can swiftly turn.
This is one of the most painstakingly harsh pieces not to write because I’ve written so many diary entries about it — but to share in the open space. More so, as I am used to sharing life stories from my early teens or childhood, and this one recounts recent events.
This is not a call for sympathy. It is merely me sharing another bit of my story, willing to break the walls of shame and discomfort that society has built around us. Do not be afraid to tell your story: the good, the bad and the ugly.