Mobile Teams assisting homeless people in France

Today in France, nearly 900,000 people do not have a home to call their own and 141,500 are sleeping rough, living in emergency shelters or accommodation. It is in this context that the French Red Cross has engaged in providing adapted support services to people facing extreme precariousness, mainly through the activities of its Mobile Teams. The key objectives of these teams are to maintain social ties with people living on the street, to provide advice on specific options for shelter and reception services that respect their dignity and choices, and to alert public authorities of their needs and vulnerabilities.

Throughout France, 8,420 volunteers and employees are gathered in 210 Red Cross Mobile Teams, which makes the French Red Cross the first operator of Mobile Teams in France. Their mission is to reach out to people living in public spaces and to provide moral support and material aid if needed, while at the same time informing them about their rights, the public services available to them, and how they can access them. In parallel, the Mobile Teams are also tasked with collecting information on the needs of the people they serve on their rounds, and making sure that this is communicated to the relevant decentralised State services and the French Red Cross’ headquarters.

"Why am I a member of a Mobile Team? To help people facing difficulties, as I consider myself to have a comfortable lifestyle, while I know that others aren’t as lucky as me”, says Maryse, a French Red Cross Mobile Team volunteer. "I am interested in helping these people, especially because of the human approach and relationships of the rounds. Also, as I have a job, I can get involved during my free time in the evenings”.

Volunteers of the Mobile Team in Lyon helping people sleeping rough, 2015. Photo: French Red Cross.

Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary service, Unity, and Universality are the fundamental principles guiding the work of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement worldwide, and likewise the daily work with homeless people in France. In addition, the Mobile Teams’ action is guided by:

  • Unconditional support - Everyone receives support, irrespective of their circumstances and without distinction based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, social status, political or ideological affiliation.
  • Equity
  • Humility
  • Respect for personal choice
  • Confidentiality
Volunteers from the Mobile Team in Toulouse helping people without a home on Christmas Eve, 2014. Photo: French Red Cross.

An important aspect of this programme is the emphasis placed on training the volunteers who form part of the Mobile Teams. The French Red Cross is the only association which requests that all of their volunteers in this type of mission follow compulsory training. The first training module has to be followed as soon as the volunteer joins the Mobile Team, and covers the French Red Cross’ methods and approach to responding to the needs of people living in the street with the best type of support.  The second training module increases awareness of the specific situation of particularly vulnerable groups encountered on the Mobile Teams’ rounds, such as women, migrants and isolated young people.

The ways in which each Mobile Team works varies from context to context, depending on the specific local circumstances. Some teams do their rounds during the day, while others roam the streets at night, some travel by foot and others use transport. In some cases, the teams go out once a week, in others they provide services every day. Some are active all year round, others only in the winter. Depending on local needs and the means available to the Mobile Team, they offer support like transporting people to emergency accommodation centres, and distributing basic hygiene kits, food and clothing.

In 2015, the Mobile Teams of the French Red Cross completed 11,000 rounds of street missions, which involved 200,000 encounters with 72,000 different people.  

To learn more, visit the French Red Cross webpage presenting the Mobile Teams programme (in French).