As night falls over Perpignan, the city quiets, giving it a different, more somber feel. Streets and plazas stand deserted with cafe tables tucked neatly inside for the night and metal security doors pulled down over shop windows like eyelids heavy with sleep.
But while many of its residents lay dreaming in soft beds, not everyone in Perpignan has a place to come home to at the end of the day.
Outside of Monoprix, the local grocery store, a group of men gathers each night to sleep around the cement steps of the small plaza and within the pumpkin carriages of the city’s carousel. Dogs of various sizes move throughout the group, companions to these seemingly lost souls.
Perpignan is a city of contrasts. In the summer it’s a warm, cheerful and bustling city, alive with vibrant festivals. But a grave realism lurks in the surprising number of panhandlers and homeless people.
Anne Rierh and Myriam David of Maison de la Région, a regional government center, spoke to The Perpignan Project on June 30. With the help of an interpreter they responded to questions about the city’s problems with unemployment and homelessness.
“You can be impoverished better in a sunny place,” said David, quoting a French proverb.
“There are a lot of people who come here because the weather is nice, because it’s warm,” added Rierh. “There are some [homeless people] from Perpignan but many come because it’s a warm place.”
As Perpignan’s economy relies heavily on tourism and agriculture, both seasonal industries, the city struggles with unemployment.
“European agriculture is declining so that poses economic difficulties for Perpignan,” said David. “(We have) a lot of sunshine, tourism, but not a lot of industry, so that poses a lot of difficulties.”
According to Rierh and David, Perpignan’s unemployment rate is 30 percent; however, the government is attempting to create more jobs.
For some here in Perpignan, it seems simply trying to survive day to day is its own job.
Each day as I dash to the ALFMED language school for class I see the same faces holding cups or hats out to passersby in hopes of a spare euro or two.
“S’il vous plaît, Mademoiselle. Avez-vous de la monnaie?”