France has been hit by record snowfall this year: it closed the Eiffel Tower and reaped havoc on the Eurostar. What people didn’t anticipate, however, is how the snow would inspire the construction of igloos to offer a cutting-edge solution to help alleviate homelessness.
Paris is the city of dreams, recently hailed as the most elegant city in the world, but there is a darker truth that lurks beneath this stereotype, as Paris has a big problem with homelessness. In fact, so does much of France compared to other European countries.
However, Geoffroy de Reynal, a French engineer, has ingeniously designed igloo huts to provide shelter for homeless people in France. It might be a strange sight, but it can make a world of difference.
The shelter is made from polyethylene foam and then covered in aluminum foil; this intelligent combination of materials impressively retains heat.
The temperatures inside the igloos are estimated to be 15.5 °C (60 °F) higher than outside. What’s more, the huts are also waterproof.
“Using my resources and the money from the crowd-funding campaign, I built 20 igloo prototypes this winter and distributed 10 in Bordeaux, and 10 additional in Paris,” he said as reported by ABC news.
“I was living abroad in Montenegro for a year, and there are not many people living outside there. When I came back to France, I was surprised by the number of homeless in the streets, so I decided to come up with an idea to help them.”
“I am not trying to replace emergency accommodations,” he argued. “I am just trying to make life a bit less difficult for homeless people. Having one of these igloos does not mean that you are not homeless anymore.”
The most shocking figure released is that an average of 480 homeless people reportedly die on the streets of France every year, though the exact figure is estimated to be six times higher. Paris in particular struggles with this problem much more than other European cities.
There has been a whole wave of new measures introduced across France to combat the problem of homelessness, with igloo shelters being just the latest. The most significant form of action taken came when Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo carried out the city’s first ever homeless census on February 15 this year. It may sound shocking, but the Parisian authorities had never counted the city’s homeless population until this date.
The most surprising turn of events, though, came when two dozen French officials, politicians, and deputy mayors spent a night sleeping outdoors near the Austerlitz train station in -2 °C (28 °F) snowy weather. The aim was to demonstrate an act of solidarity with the homeless people of Paris, and call attention to their growing population.
They walked around the neighborhood and spoke to homeless people in tents near the Austerlitz train station before finding their own spot on the ground, nestling into their sleeping bags for the night.
In 2017, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, boldly pledged that rough-sleeping would become a problem of the past by the end of the year.
And yet, it’s 2018 and homelessness is still a widespread issue, with the ambitious vision of streets free of people sleeping rough yet to take shape. “We’ve failed there,” Macron was forced to admit recently. Hopefully, at least with these new shelters, living conditions will be temporarily improved, while the real problem remains to be addressed.