The 85-year old Rene Robert fainted while on a walk in one of the most crowded areas of Paris. He couldn’t get up, and then died of hypothermia after being ignored for nine hours. The death has shocked France and has shamed the capital city in news worldwide. Robert died likely because people assumed he was just another street person in a fabulously rich city where homelessness is somehow a common sight. The person who finally checked on Robert was a homeless person, who probably knew all too well the indifference of Paris to people sleeping rough, even in winter.
Officially, around 600 people die on the streets of France each year, but NGOs say the real number is closer to 3,000 people. Refugees, mostly from countries hit by Western military intervention, die out of sight and without identification in tents pushed into unseen and unbelievable corners of the country.
Annual budget cuts during the age of austerity have pushed even more poor and mentally-ill into the streets, with evictions exploding so much the government refuses to publish the data anymore. Government housing policy favors landlords and not renters in Paris, the most population-dense city in the Western world.
None of these government policy choices really explains the specific death of Rene Robert but many hope his needless death can change France’s indifference to the plight of those on the streets.