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The Warp

Radio Programme ‘Homeless Families’

‘Well, we was living with my Mum and we got married, and she gave us the room on condition that we was out if the boys came back from the Army, as they was out in Cyprus. And of course you just can’t go back on people when you’ve promised them a thing, so when they did come back home, we got out. We went down the Borough Council and they just said, there’s nothing we can do if you’re evicted, and you’ll just have to put up with it, you know.’

‘During the war we used to dream of the good old times. We’d be happy when we got back to England. But I’m afraid this England is not the country we expected it to be. I’ve been to a few places and landlords for a flat, or a house, but as soon as you mention you’ve got four children they go stone deaf on you. Say, I’m sorry we can’t accommodate all them children. That’s all we keep getting wherever you go. You go to agents, they don’t want to know when you’ve got children.’

‘I’ve been all over the country looking for places and I find I can get places but when I mention I’ve got five children nobody seems to want to know.’

‘I was living in Hampstead for five years, as a matter of fact, I was paying four pound ten a week for a furnished garden flat, but as soon as our baby, this little fellow, turned up, which I wanted very much, of course, that meant I got notice to move. Well we tried, I mean I wrote letters, I wrote after places, never got no answer. And when I did get an answer the answer I got was no children, no children accepted.’

Assistant Director of Housing to the London County Council; ‘One of my jobs is to deal with the lettings of council houses and flats. Unfortunately, the problem of homeless families is only one part, although a serious part, of the general housing problem. And I suppose it’s true to say that many people who are not technically homeless are living in worse conditions than those who’ve had to move into the council’s welfare accommodation.

‘In London, in the area of the London County Council, we have a waiting list of 54,000 families, of whom at least 37,000 are in serious housing need. Each year we have about 8,000 dwellings to let. Now that sounds a lot and one might think that we could easily deal with all the homeless families in London, but let me tell you something of the demands of this 8,000. We have a few sites in London and in order to find anywhere to build we have to clear sites. Part of this is slum clearance, which amounts to something like 2,700 families a year and they have to be given dwellings. In addition we find sites by buying up large houses with large gardens where we can demolish and develop to a greater density, and there, from that source we have to house about another 1,000 families a year. These clearance operations, including the slum clearance, in total mean that we have to rehouse 5,500 families a year.

We now have 2,500 left to allocate, and we have numerous priority calls on even this 2,500, and when all these priorities have been dealt with we are left with about 1,000 houses per year for allocation to the waiting list. 1,000 per year to meet the demand from 54,000 families on the list.

When I entered the service, long before the war, a family which couldn’t, or didn’t, provide a home for itself, was often what we would call feckless or irresponsible. It was considered then that if a man couldn’t provide a home for his wife and children he wasn’t much good. But that is certainly not true today. The great majority of the homeless families we deal with are decent citizens and all they want is a home of their own.’

‘The average person who is, say, comfortably housed doesn’t realise the position of people who are just sort of living each week on their husband’s income, which is a nominal wage; well my husband earns just over ten pounds a week, and it just doesn’t seem possible to get anything, unless you go in for a furnished flat, and that is about four pound ten a week, at least, isn’t it now? Well, before the war there wasn’t such a thing known as furnished flats. I remember London when I was a girl of fifteen, and I first came down to London from Aberdeen, and I came to my sister down here, and it was possible to walk any street in London and see a To Let board out. I mean the housing situation was nothing like it is now. When I first got married, when I was eighteen, we managed to get a place at a very reasonable rent, including a bathroom and everything. We paid thirteen shillings a week, didn’t we Andy? Thirteen shillings a week, yes, and that was on Primrose Hill.’

‘What came as a shock was on the morning that we had to move. I had to pay the removal people fourteen pound, which I was prepared to pay ... I hadn’t got the money, I had to borrow the money from a friend. And then they told me I had to pay a pound a week, that was a pound a week for storage.’

‘Although I’ve lived in Camberwell all my life I didn’t really know what Newington Lodge was like, and it comes as rather a blow to you when you go in there and you have to share living accommodation with other families, and your way of life gets upset, and the children do get unsettled by being in there, and I found that they went off their food and got rather hard to manage at times, whereas before they were quite good children, did reasonably what they were told. The food wasn’t too good in there, and the children half the time didn’t eat their food at all.’

‘It’s very dangerous for a family to be split up. I’ve had one marriage go on the rocks already through it, this is my second time being married and my first marriage went down through me working in London and my wife living away down at the coast, because we couldn’t get nowhere to live.’

‘I saw the Welfare man and he said to me that he could cater for the wife and the two children, but not for me. And as I said to him, I couldn’t care less, I mean, I was lost. I was lost. So he said, well don’t be like that, he said, we’ll do all in our power to help you. So I came out of the welfare place and I said goodbye to the missus, not knowing when I should see her again, although arrangements could be made. I mean it was such a journey for me to keep going there every time, that I just lost all interest, because I mean, some men don’t seem to bother whether they’re living with their wives and all that, but I mean I’ve always been one who did bother, we’ve been happy together, we’ve been married eighteen years, and when you get like that I mean it upsets you, breaks your heart.’

‘While we were in Newington Lodge, because of the communal living if any of the children caught any diseases such as measles, all the other children eventually caught it, and my two youngest had measles from there, but fortunately I think we weren’t in there at the time when dysentry had been, they had had dysentry in there before we went there. But, if one caught it, it went round the whole lot of the children through being communal living. Evidently it’s checked all the time for dysentry, they have a system known as swabbing which isn’t very nice, and actually I think children, the younger ones, it upsets them dreadfully. You have to have a clearance, evidently they take three days swabbing off you, before they even sort of pass you on into the next thing, you know. And I think rather young babies suffer there too.’

‘We went into Newington Lodge on the Saturday afternoon, and the Sunday we stayed there and had just a couple of meals which weren’t very good. On the Monday we had to go for swabbing. You know, we queued up with everybody else. On the Tuesday morning the Matron of the place came and said the children have got dysentry, they’re going away. So I enquired, I said could I speak to my husband on the phone, or get in touch with him, you know, as, you know, we just didn’t expect that type of thing. And, “Oh we don’t care about him, you’ve just got to, you go in the ambulance with the children and when you come back you can have dinner here but you must be out of the premises, you know, you can’t spend another night here as you’ve got no children with you.”’

‘The effect on my children was that they fretted while they were in there, and my young boy, I know I heard screaming for Mummy as I was walking along the road from the hospital, and when they came out I couldn’t go anywhere without them. If I shut them in while I just went into the kitchen to put the kettle on they’d scream after me or follow me, and I think it had a very bad effect on their mental attitude really. They thought they were being parted again.’

‘Well, we went in front of the committee meeting at Newington Lodge and the gentleman said he’d do the best they could for us, to get us together, and a little while after we got notified that we could move into Eaton Place, and I could live there with my family, and we went to Eaton Place, the rent was a bit dear, it was fourty-four shillings a week for one room, but it was well worth it to save being split up.’

‘I don’t think you can blame the welfare people. I think the welfare people are doing a very good job, they do try to help us very much, and I would like to say that if it was in their power I’m quite sure we should get much more done. I think the blame rests at the top of the tree, that those people don’t take sufficient interest in their people. They just don’t bother, they’re not interested that’s all there is to it, they could do much, much more for us than they are doing if they were sufficiently interested, or perhaps they’re not advised enough. Perhaps they’re not being sufficiently advised about the situation. I would gladly welcome the Prime Minister of this country to come round with me and I could show him quite a lot and he wouldn’t need to bother to go to anywhere else in this country.’

‘I come over to Battersea to see this gentleman and he said he could help me and he started making the forms out, like, to get me a place, and this gentleman he was surprised to think I’d got nowhere to live with five children, and he said he’d help me. Anyhow, he started making the form out and he asked me where I lived now and I said over Clapham, and he said he’s sorry he can’t do anything for me because I’m not in this borough, and I mean, what’s the borough to do with it, I live in England, not a borough. I was in the army fourteen years, I can’t be in the borough and in the army. Well, I mean, I was a prisoner of war for five years and I still think I am a prisoner of war. I still have to be told what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve not got to do. I mean, I’ve never had a place of my own to be able to do what I like in.’


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