The Parisian Homeless Fight Against a New Foe, the Summer Olympics

By: Kostika Kosova

On September 13, 2017, the International Olympic Committee officially designated Paris as the host city of the 2024 Summer Olympics. One would think that being chosen to host the Olympics would be looked upon favorably considering that the bid itself cost the city somewhere between fifty and one hundred million dollars. Viewers themselves often attribute a positive outlook towards the Olympic Games, invariably looking approvingly upon the pageantry, celebrations, and global competition that this mega sporting event brings. And yet, Paris last hosted the Olympics a century ago, in 1924. In addition, of the seven finalists-cities for the 2024 Games, all but Los Angeles and Paris withdrew their bids. Why is that? Well, the explanation may not be as elusive as one might think: money.

The economics of the Olympics often spiral to nearly insurmountable sums that appear all but illogical to the hosting city. A 2012 study by the University of Oxford showed that since 1976, each of the Summer Olympics had a cost overrun of about 252 percent. The 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro had a total cost of nearly fourteen billion dollars, while the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo reached a staggering twenty-eight billion dollars. Presently, the budget for the Paris Games is set to about eight billion dollars—recently raised from its initial allotment of six billion dollars.

In other words, the cost of the Olympics, as large as it may be, seems to be quantifiable. The calculations for the budget, however, seem to be leaving out a key consideration—the effect on the population. Namely, the effect on those most vulnerable in the city, the homeless. In France, the estimated number of homeless people is around 330,000, with nearly half of that figure located in the Paris region. Around April 2023, the French government initiated a relocation plan in which 50 to 150 homeless people are taken out of Paris each week and moved to one of ten newly-made, temporary shelters across France—1,800 homeless people have been relocated thus far. Various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local politicians allege that this relocation is a direct effect of the impending Summer Games.

The Interministerial Delegation for Accommodation and Access to Housing, a government group consisting of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Housing, denies any connection between the relocation plan and the Summer Games. The former Housing Minister, Oliver Klein, recently denied the connection as well—walking back comments he had made earlier that all but confirmed its existence. A spokesperson for Paris 2024 echoed the government’s denials. The mayor of Paris, Ann Hidalgo, herself stated that the Games were not the reason for the relocation. Nevertheless, when one considers that the International Olympic Committee requires at a minimum, forty thousand available hotel rooms in the host city, it becomes difficult to disregard the connection. As of 2022, approximately 50,000 homeless people were housed in hotels in the Paris region. Five thousand of these contracted hotel spots have already been canceled for the upcoming year.

The fight in Paris seems to be centered around accommodation. Many of these hotels would rather charge normal rates to the expected influx of tourists in 2024, rather than be used as emergency housing solutions. It is difficult to align the financial expectations of businesses, in this case the hotels, with the stark reality of homelessness. While on the one hand business owners are well within their rights to plan their year around potential profits, are not homeless people within their rights as well to be treated with decency?

Pascal Brice, the head of a French homelessness charity, Federation for Solidarity Workers, expresses a similar concern stating, “putting people up in good conditions all over France rather than in the streets of the Paris region is positive in principle…But will they put in the necessary resources?” The 2024 Olympics undoubtedly requires space, but does it necessarily require putting homeless people on busses and moving them to other cities with little to no information given to them?

Perhaps a better solution could be found in the United States. Comparatively, it is interesting to look at a recent plan to tackle homelessness in Miami—a city ranking twentieth in terms of the largest homeless population in the US. On September 14, 2023, Miami Beach approved a new plan in which homeless people will be asked to accept help to be moved to a shelter or be subject to arrest. In other words, Miami is taking the criminalization approach. It would seem that the earlier optimism of finding a solution in the United States was not properly founded. Criminalizing homelessness has often been shown to make homelessness a more perpetual problem, making it harder to exit. In fact, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness denounced statutes aimed at criminalizing homelessness, adding that, “blaming, criminalizing, and moving people from streets to jails does not solve homelessness or fix the systems that created it.” 

Much like Paris, the central issue in Miami seems to be accommodation. This recent Miami Beach approach to homelesseness  parallels an effort by the city to supposedly get enough beds to provide for the homeless people within the city. Nonetheless, this ordinance is as much a temporary solution as the relocation scheme is. Being able to accommodate the mass of people with no avenues to housing is the crux of the issue here, not where people can temporarily sleep from night to night. It would appear that whether a city is busy busing people away or threatening arrest for non-compliance, there have been no actual attempts to solve the underlying issues which fuel homelessness in these various parts of the world in the first place. For all the billions of dollars that appear for various budgets, here or abroad, people are still somehow wondering where they might sleep for the night.

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