The issue of homelessness is always to the forefront here. Here are some of the various ways it has manifested itself recently.
Firstly the restaurant where we meet on Sundays is regularly visited by a homeless chap who is quite well known on the streets of Bordeaux. He looks and dresses like Albert Finney's Fagin, like an old-fashioned tramp, really, draped in layers of roughly cut blanket-waiscoats. He comes to the restaurant and from outside the door pops something through and hooks it by the door. The idea is that we accept what he gives and give him something in return, perhaps an ash-tray or a spoon - ideally some money. He once gave us a whole brioche that I assume someone else had given to him.
Secondly, I know a chap who is a beggar by profession. He speaks of the people who give to him as his clients, and he knows their habits and he makes sure he's at his post, outside a certain shop, when they will be passing. He lives in a hostel and also has certain allowances paid to him by the government. He's certainly not a drunk, he looks after his health, he does OK and he gets invited to people's homes during the holidays. It's his way of life. At his age, around 60, he'd find it hard to get a job, I suppose.
Thirdly during a recent discussion we got onto the subject of beggars in the streets of Bordeaux. People used to station themselves at the Post Offices to open the door in return for some money, but the Post Offices have been refurbished with automatic doors to send the beggars away. Interesting. But during the discussion one English lady who's lived in France a very long time said, "But there are no hungry people in England. If you have nothing in England the government gives you money, so nobody is hungry in England." When I had an opportunity I told her quietly of my many friends in England who are involved in running food banks because so many people are hungry.
Then I was very shocked to see an initiative taken by the town of Angoulême, a couple of hours north of Bordeaux, where the town hall decided to put fences round th benches to prevent homeless people using them. Apparently certain folk drink there - it's forbidden in Angoulême to drink alcohol in the streets - and the town hall thought the best way to tackle the problem was by fencing off the benches. Madness. I read this morning that they have taken away the fencing.