Petition to Parliament
On an evening in November 1966 a group of us were hovering in the tall Gothick foyer of the Houses of Parliament. We had with us a petition which we were trying to deliver to members of parliament. Many of us were members of an anarchist group called Solidarity.
The petition pointed out that in Essex homeless families had been housed in old Army huts. Husbands were not allowed to stay with their families. However, husbands under cover of darkness had been climbing in to be with their wives and children. And they had been arrested and sent to prison.
‘Tonight husbands are in gaol for being good husbands,’ our petition proclaimed.
Earlier that day we had been down at Kings Hill Hostel at Abridge in Essex. We’d marched down the road with placards and occupied the hostel. Barricades had been built from dustbins and we distributed leaflets which began, ‘To the People of Kent ...’
‘The time has come for the ordinary people of Kent to be made aware of what is happening at King Hill Hostel, West Malling, near Maidstone, where the Kent County Council subjects homeless families to a three months dehumanising course.
‘The Hostel is a squalid group of ex-RAF huts, enclosed by a high wire fence. It has been aptly described by Eric Lubbock, MP, as ‘a concentration camp’. Conditions are atrocious. The huts are partitioned into rooms, with communal lavatories and washing sinks. There are no power points. There is no gas supply. Antique coal stoves in the ‘living rooms’ provide the ‘heating’ and the only means for cooking. The only recent major improvement has been the expenditure of over £4,000 for a house for one of the supervisory staff.
‘The Hostel contains about 45 women and over a hundred children. There is no nurse in attendance and no telephone that the ‘residents’ can use. The Council houses these people in ‘fulfilment’ of its statutory obligation to provide accommodation for homeless families.
‘Most of the families at King Hill are homeless through no fault of their own. Many were evicted because their families are too large, or simply because their landlords wanted to make more money out of the property. No one stays at a place like the King Hill Hostel out of choice.
‘The Kent County Council is run by a set of people with incomes and homes far above the average. It has seen fit to impose rules at the Hostel, which have the sole purpose of making the place as unpleasant as possible, so that the homeless families will not be ‘encouraged’ to stay there. Poor Law mentality permeates the thinking of the KCC. Their rules are so brutal and outdated that even the Minister of Health has attempted (without success) to get them alleviated. The KCC dismissed his suggestions out of hand.
‘These rules include: No intoxicants; no animals; the communal toilets and the long corridors to be scrubbed (no mops allowed) and polished every day. Uniformed staff inspect whenever they like. Some enter living sections without knocking. There is no privacy.
‘No accommodation is given to husbands. They are not even allowed to visit their families except during specific visiting hours at weekends. This means that the family not only has to pay the rent at King Hill. It also has to meet the additional expense of separate digs for the husband. This, combined with the husband’s fares for travelling to and from West Malling, is often an unbearable financial load, which makes it even more difficult for the families to obtain permanent homes.
‘Stays at King Hill are limited to three months, irrespective of circumstances. At the end of this period the family is evicted onto the streets. The children are taken away, ‘into care’. Many families have been broken up, often never to be reunited. This time limit and its consequences place intolerable mental burdens on the mothers at King Hill, who are faced with the prospect of having their children taken away from them, if they cannot find homes.
‘The rules at King Hill have been imposed by the KCC. None of them can be justified. Other local authorities supply accommodation for their homeless in which husbands can stay. Few impose any time limit. The Kent County Council cannot even claim that there is a shortage of space in King Hill. In fact the Hostel is half empty!
‘The Kent County Council has been responsible for sending two men to prison for refusing to give an undertaking that they wouldn’t visit their families in their hour of need. One of the men was blind. His youngest child had just had a serious operation. The other man sent to prison has six children. The youngest are one-year-old twins. His wife relied on his help to look after them. Several other families have had eviction notices served on them.
‘These people have committed no crime. They are simply homeless. They have formed a Committee and issued a Charter of Demands. They are campaigning for a withdrawal of eviction notices, for a relaxation of visiting regulations and for recognition of their Committee by the Kent County Council. So far the Kent County Council has not even acknowledged the letters sent to it ...’
Ken had joined us in time for the entry to the Houses of Parliament. As the moment for the first transmission of ‘Cathy Come Home’ and the delivering of our petition grew closer, however, Ken remembered an appointment, made an excuse and left, saying he was going over to the BBC.
We never did get to see our MPs. The film when it was transmitted later that evening, caused a sensation.
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