When I first came to Paris in the 1950's, there were colourful "sites" of tramps congregated over Metro grills of hot air, swigging their wine. All the tourists returned home with indelible memories of these harmless tramps !!!
There are few typical old style French tramps left now. They have been replaced by what we now call "SDF's" (people without fixed domiciles).
Some are old style French tramps but many are "Roms", i.e. "Romanian Travellors", or footloose foreigners, but also French people with "problems" or without a full time job. They occupy key "begging" sites as though they have a leasehold on the four or five square meters they sit on daily. The Roms are served meals by their "landlords". This is a typical description of where I live in the upmarket part of the 17th arrondissement in Paris, and also in certain other areas of Paris.
This has been a growing problem during the last 30 years in France. Lack of enough housing for such people is a root cause. Free migration in the EU adds to the problem. Polititions shy away from discussing all this, especially at this time in France with the upcoming Presidential elections and then the General election !!!
It seems Eric Cantona, the former Manchester United footballer, may become a candidate in the 2012 Presidentials in France. His main object is, apparently, to highlight the absence of adequate housing for the needy.