Down but not out: French homeless man takes Twitter by storm
By Alexandre HIELARD
A French homeless man has become a social media sensation, chalking up nearly 20,000 followers on Twitter with his account of life on the mean streets of Paris.
Christian Page was the head waiter in a ritzy restaurant in the posh Madeleine district of the French capital before becoming homeless after a divorce that tipped him into depression.
The 45-year-old, born in the western Paris suburb of Versailles, the former seat of French kings, recalls serving the likes of former Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and tennis champion Rafael Nadal.
But one day, he found he “couldn’t smile at people anymore” and handed in his notice.
Struggling to live on 545 euros ($650) a month in benefit payments, he soon found himself unable to pay rent and was evicted in April 2015.
Nowadays, home is the street, where armed with a old smartphone with a cracked screen he punches out tweets slamming politicians’ empty promises and appealing for help for those without a roof over their heads.
His phone has also been a stick to call out the authorities over anti-vagrancy measures.
On Christmas Day, he tweeted a picture of the metal barriers erected by the city around a warm air vent in northeast Paris used by some homeless people to keep warm.
The message was shared over 2,000 times, prompting the authorities to remove the grilles — a small victory for the homeless that made the front pages, boosting Page’s Twitter following to over 19,500 and landing him with a list of interview requests.
His first social media coup dates back over a year, when he tweeted about being woken at dawn by a municipal cleaning worker who hosed him with cold water.
Despite having only six Twitter followers at the time his message came to the attention of Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who apologised and provided him with a new sleeping bag.
“Twitter is not a weapon, but it’s powerful,” the self-described “vagrant 2.0” who dresses rocker-style in head-to-toe black with a ponytail and red bandana, said in an interview with AFP on a bench in northeast Paris.
– ‘Begging 2.0’ –
Apart from highlighting conditions on the street Page also uses Twitter to request a helping hand, preferring “begging 2.0” to what he calls the “despondency” of traditional panhandling.
And it works.
Over Christmas and New Year, a generous benefactor left him the keys to his Paris apartment, and he has also received donations of clothes and shoes, which he shares with others.
Above all, he said, tweeting gives him “the feeling of existing.”
“In the morning, I get a ‘Hello Christian’, and in the evening a ‘Goodnight’. It sounds silly but these little messages move me,” said the soft-spoken father of a 15-year-old son, whose ruddy face testifies to the ravages of the cold.
Despite his growing fame, Page, who has kept a phone contract with internet access, has no ambition of becoming a spokesman for France’s estimated 143,000 homeless.
“I’m glad if my messages find an audience. It might mean a sandwich for a homeless person at the other end of France,” said Page, who is scathing of the work of charities, calling them “supermarkets of misery” which he says fail to do enough for the homeless.
On a personal level, he is optimistic about getting off the street.
“Anything can happen. With my current run of luck, I should play the lottery!”