In Seine-Saint-Denis, Covid-19 has increased the situation for the most vulnerable

The containment due to the coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced the economic activity in the poorest territory of the metropolitan region of France and has eliminated the employment of thousands of already insecure people. The associations have seen requests for help explode and are worried for months to come.

The scene has something new on a French university campus. At the entrance to the IUT of Bobigny, within the University of Paris-13, Volunteers from Secours populaire unload three trucks from the association filled with food. This Friday, June 26, they install the tables in the building’s entrance and prepare to welcome a hundred people, mostly university students, who are deprived of income with inclusion. Before March “There has never been a food distribution on campus. We have a large population of students of foreign origin, who can no longer afford to work,” says the outgoing vice president. from the University, Olivier Oudar.

Upon arrival, some people already know about the process and recycle rice, pasta, milk, vegetables or fish in a tray before leaving, others who come for the first time do not seem to have any stock. Sophie, 27, in master1 in clinical research, is very uncomfortable. “I had a small job that allowed me to come by, but I lost it. Before the crisis, I didn’t even know there were food distributions!” She, who has spent time in her 18-square-foot Crous room, plans to stay there during the summer: “I really need to find a job,” she said.

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Sudden deterioration of the situation

The March disappearance of “odd jobs”, temporary contracts, “moonlight” work and short-term contracts led hundreds of thousands of residents of Seine-Saint-Denis (93), the most impoverished in metropolitan France, in an even more precarious situation. In a special report published just before inclusion, INSEE already noted the persistent social difficulties of the department, with a poverty rate twice as high as the national average (27.9% vs. 14.1%), 28% of youth aged 18 to 24 without employment, or education and 11% of the total population covered by Active Solidarity Income (RSA). Support associations for the poorest, who have been involved in the area for a long time, quickly noticed the sudden deterioration of the situation.

Annick Tamet, deputy secretary general of Secours populaire du 93, estimates that more than 45,000 people have been seated since March 17, compared to 29,000 per year normally. “We receive people we have never seen, temporary employees, those who supplement their RSA with odd jobs, students, intermittent show workers … Our volunteers in Paris-8 even got a student who had not eaten in two days” , she comments.

In a department with the highest birthrate in France, which has 18% large families, the crisis has often reduced the entire household’s livelihood. In Bobigny, Hadia, 18, and a BTStourism student, came to pick up a package to help her parents and three brothers and sisters keep the week going. “We already had financial problems, but now none of us can find a job,” she explains. In addition to food assistance, people in need can get service vouchers from the prefecture from associations, of different value, for shopping. “It helps us a lot,” the girl says.

Hadia (from behind), an 18-year-old student, came to fetch a packed lunch for her family at IUT in Bobigny. © Rémi Carlier, France 24

>> See web doc : Seine-Saint-Denis: The Republic forgot

Fear and pessimism

In an open letter to Emmanuel Macron published in Le Journal du dimanche on June 21, the communist mayor of La Courneuve, Gilles Poux, and about forty personalities demanded “six emergency measures for Seine-Saint-Denis and the territories hardest hit by Covid-19”. According to INSEE, the department registered between 1yourMarch and April 10, a death toll of 118.4%, the highest share in Île-de-France. In particular, “promiscuity, caution, overcrowded housing, the high incidence of comorbidity factors, but also the state of public health infrastructure in 93, a medical desert for urban medicine”, lists PCF Deputy from Seine-Saint-Denis Stéphane Peu, signing the letter and present at the food distribution at IUT by Bobigny. Not particularly optimistic about the situation for the students in Paris-13 and Paris-8 during the summer vacation, he recalls the proposal to create a “student income” from the communists’ deputies in March at the National Assembly. “This year there will be no or few extra jobs, it will not resume. We should expect a great deal of caution among students.”

>> See the focus : Mutual assistance, inequalities, mistrust … The many faces of the suburbs at inclusion

Subsidies, donations from individuals, extra help from restaurants, dishes prepared by the department’s school kitchens have enabled associations to respond to needs. “Solidarity has worked well so far, and we think we can endure until September, but at the expense of cash outflows, which is a first I know,” Annick Tamet, Secours populaire, regrets pessimistically about improving the situation in the coming months .

This fear shares the head of the Drancy Center in the restaurants of Coeur, Patrick Chaillet. “I’m really afraid of another containment. But even if it does improve, some families have been so weakened that it will take them months to leave,” he said. In the building provided by City Hall for the distribution of food parcels, adapted to allow maximum distance between people, its team provided 57,000 meals in 10 weeks, compared to 63,000 in the 16 weeks of the 2019 summer campaign. “Next week we have already exceeded this figure [créateur des Restaurants du cœur en 1985] must turn in his grave! “The association’s warehouse in Villepinte is well enough to meet the needs of people this summer, but” it’s going to be harder and harder, says Restos93 CEO Jean-Claude Eberhardt. We had a growing demand before the crisis, and we will have even more afterwards. “