Accepted paper:

Dreaming of and making home: daily home-making practices among SDF at Paris' Gare du Nord


Johannes Lenhard (Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The dream of many of the homeless people of the Gare du Nord is to have a home. While the desire serves as a constant source of motivation, the daily process of home-making in the environment of the street is as important for the people’s wellbeing as the ultimate goal.

Paper long abstract:

The people I have been working with over the past 1.5 years on the streets around Paris' Gare du Nord are without shelter, work, security, family and income. They are supposedly home-less. In the first part of this paper, I will present their visions, dreams and ambitions focused on creating a home in senses as varied as a roof over their head, friends and family to talk to or 'the fuzzy feeling of being loved'. The daily reality of the street makes the path towards their imagined future home nonlinear. Thrown back by trauma and other mental health issues, alcoholism or the complexities of bureaucracy and the security apparatus, people are forced to constantly re-orientate themselves. In a process of repeated and conscious narration and reflection - sometimes within the context of institutionalised conversation with a social worker, other times in informal discussions among peers - dreams are adjusted while not fundamentally altered. Daily steps forward consist of approximating home and the feelings and effects associated with it: applying for an ID card, accessing a homeless day centre to play chess with a friend, building a temporary shelter from bins and cardboard, finding people who speak your language and share your taste. The struggle is both symbolical and literal. The more or less close prospect of leaving the street drives the process while as I observe the goal - in the form of one's own chez soi - is in the reality of the street only as important as the constant approximations.

panel P57
Im)possible lives: on futures as process