Ramata's voice is barely audible, covered by the cries of the children echoing against the moldy walls of their tiny apartment.

Like all French people since the introduction of containment measures, this mother of two must stay at home. But Ramata's "home" is by no means a comfortable, warm home. In Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris, the young woman lives with her husband and their two children in a hotel room of 8 square meters, infested with cockroaches.

"This place is filthy. The air we breathe in it is unhealthy and my children are always sick," says the 30-year-old mother from Burkina Faso, trying to silence her lively 2-year-old daughter. years and his youngest, almost 1 year.

"It was the social Samu who placed us in this room last November. Since then, we have been stuck here," she explains to France 24.

The room in which Ramata lives with his family is on the ground floor. There is only room for a bunk bed, sink, radiator and small refrigerator. The walls are covered with mold. Electric wires hang everywhere and water leaks are frequent. The toilets and the shower at the end of the corridor are "constantly blocked".

After visiting the premises earlier this year, social workers declared the hotel unsanitary and unsuitable for accommodating families. The municipal authorities have since rehoused most of the families who lived there, but that of Ramata, as well as fifteen other households, have not been able to benefit from rehousing. According to the municipality, it was up to the Samu social to find them new accommodation.

"I even considered living on the street, just to escape this room," says Ramata. "But a doctor dissuaded me from it. He told me it would be too dangerous for the children."

The walls and ceiling of the room where Ramata lives with her family are covered with mold. © Image sent by Ramata to FRANCE 24

Despite his many calls for help, Ramata has no choice but to continue paying his 150-euro rent every month. To pay the rent, Ramata's companion - a forklift driver - continues to work despite the risk of falling ill and bringing the virus back to their tiny home. To take care of the children in his absence, Ramata had to quit her job as a cleaning lady.

The challenge of eating

"I am so afraid for my children," she says, denouncing the hotel's lack of basic hygiene. "But the hardest part is that they don't even have enough room to play."

Ramata admits that she goes out with her children once a day so that they can get some fresh air and stretch their legs, "even if the hotel manager tells us to stay inside".

Eating is another challenge. The hotel's shared kitchen has been closed since the start of confinement. To cook, the families who still live there must share three microwave ovens.

"Before, we were going to do our shopping at Restos du Coeur, but they had to close because of the confinement," regrets Ramata.

To add to their misfortunes, the hotel manager decided to repaint the premises in full containment, thus aggravating Ramata's already frequent asthma attacks.

"And the hotel continues to house new people who come from God knows where," says the young woman. "What will happen if they are carriers of the virus?"

A "catastrophe" to come

Ramata's desperate situation illustrates what housing associations are already describing as a "disaster" to come.

"The fight against the coronavirus is based on confinement at home so, of course, it is essential to have adequate housing", underlines Jean-Baptiste Eyraud, spokesperson for the association Droit au logement.

"But, on the contrary, for millions of people, containment will not help them protect themselves from the epidemic, but risks doing the exact opposite," he adds.

Jean-Baptiste Eyraud warns: "Homelessness and overcrowding in cramped housing are both conducive to violence, illness and flight". "It is essential to get people out of the streets and unhealthy environments to stop the spread of the disease," he insists.

According to the latest report from the Abbé Pierre Foundation, in France, nearly 4 million people are "poorly housed". Among them: the homeless, people living in accommodation centers for migrants, communities of Travelers and some 25,000 people who live - like Ramata's family - in hotel rooms. Almost one million people live in "acute" overcrowding conditions.

After a scandal broke out over homeless people who were fined for not respecting confinement, the government announced the release of a 50 million euro envelope to shelter people on the street. The authorities are thus extending the winter shelter for some 14,000 people. They also promised to requisition an additional 10,000 hotel rooms. The winter break - prohibiting landlords from evicting their tenants until the end of May - is also lengthened.

However, the requisition of hotels is "only part of the solution, because in most cases, people will not be able to cook," says Jean-Baptiste Eyraud. "The real solution is to requisition empty housing, starting with the tens of thousands of second homes that are only used for tourism, like Airbnb for example. After all, we are in an emergency situation and there is no Anyway, there are no tourists at the moment. "

In the same bed as her son

Associations fighting against bad housing ask the government to temporarily freeze the payment of rents, alerting the fact that many tenants have seen their income melt due to the cessation of many economic activities.

Even if she doubts that this is possible, Fernanda (the first name has been changed) would need to have her rent suspended during confinement. This 50-year-old woman from a West African country and mother of a 13-year-old teenager lives in a small studio in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.

Support worker, she has not worked since the start of confinement and worries that she will not be able to pay her rent in April.

But what worries Fernanda even more, are the effects of confinement on her son who is old "where all we want is not to have his parents on his back all day".

"It's very difficult to be stuck together all day," she says. Fernanda is also concerned about the little support she can provide to her son who faces the challenge of having to study at home.

"Most parents can help their children learn their lessons and do their homework, but there is little I can do to help them," she says. "So, at least I try not to disturb him."

Unlike some French people who continue to leave their homes every day, Fernanda respects confinement very scrupulously. She only goes out once a week to go shopping and takes no risks, terrified of "falling ill and leaving her son with no one to take care of him."

Passionate about basketball, his son only went outside once in two weeks, to shoot a few balls in a basket installed near their home. To compensate for the lack of outdoor exercise, Fernanda encourages her to play sports by following online programs.

For her, confinement aggravated an already difficult situation and exacerbated her feeling of guilt at not being able to offer her son accommodation in which he would have his own bedroom.

"He is 13 years old and still has to share his bed with his mother," she sighs. "How much longer can he go without having his own space?"

Article adapted from English by Julia Dumont. To read the original article, click here.

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