The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

A number of homeless grows

Category: Land + People

Every day the number of homeless grows. Every ten days something like 150 persons will join the army of home­less inLondonalone.Londongets the spotlight. But there are homeless in every other city inBritain, too.

Where do they go, the homeless? After tramping the estate agents, after waiting fruitless hours at the local council housing office, having her hopes raised and dashed again and again, the unhappy mother drags herself and her chil­dren to the temporary accommodation for the homeless — the Reception Centre. There is one called Newington Lodge in Southwark,London.

“Newington Lodge”, the welfare workers say brightly, “is one wing of an old people’s home”. True enough; but this old people’s home is a grim prison-like building that was in fact for many years the local workhouse.

The most terrible stories are told about conditions there. Privacy is non-existent. Hygiene is sketchy. To give children there a fair start in life is impossible.

The mothers claim that no child enters without soon going down with enteritis or similar stomach troubles. They say that soiled bed linen is heaped up in the very room where they eat their meals.

In some reception centres there are curtained cubicles. In others there are fifty to sixty beds to a dormitory.

The family is broken up, the furniture stored or sold up. All you can take into Newington Lodge is a suitcase for the family’s clothes, the baby’s nappies, your own pri­vate possessions that you must take with you — and the kiddies’ toys.

The husband is not admitted. He “dosses out” elsewhere, paying for a bed, or for a bedroom shared with other lodgers.

This then is Newington Lodge, Southwark, where the homeless go. A twentieth-century hell for working class families, not two miles from the stately residence of Her Majesty the Queen, not a mile from the local council build­ing, on the wall of which is proudly inscribed “The Health of the People is the Highest Law”.

The great tragedy is that these 1,000Londonhomeless families are in fact only at the tip of the iceberg of this housing misery in all of our great cities.

For every homeless family there are another score of families grossly overcrowded and yet another hundred fami­lies living in appalling derelict slum tenements. There are countless pensioners who drag themselves up long flights of cold, ill-lit stone stairs to damp pokey rooms in an­cient dwellings, forty and fifty years older than they are themselves.

There are children living their young lives in buildings that disgusted Dickens. The same grey sunless court­yards now adjoining unfenced bomb-sites, uncleared dust-bins and blocked refuse chutes.

Comment, Aug. 22, 1964

« ||| »

Comments are closed.