Friday, August 20, 2004

Give them a Home, and what do you Get back?

I haven't mentioned my next door neighbours since my Posting in March. It's quite interesting to think back to that time, when I was still mourning the death of the previous occupant of the house, who died almost a year ago at the age of 84.

Strange isn't it, that you can mourn your neighbour sometimes more than you can mourn your own family members? This was confirmed to me back in Toronto, when the next door neighbour to my parents came to visit. She had not seen my terminally ill Dad for several months and burst into uncontrollable tears at the sorry sight of his condition. She confided to me separately a few days later that she was very upset by it, yet she herself had her own parents in India to worry about.

Anyway, back to my new neighbours, who still occupy a fine 3.5 bedroom terraced house, refurbished to 2004 standards, in one of the most attractive areas of Newham with more fresh air and greenery than should ever be taken for granted.

They could have been worse, they could be better. The children are constantly throwing all sorts of things around their back garden, which is not maintained at all other than being very occasionally strimmed. They speak English very well: "Fuck Off" can be heard quite frequently to be exchanged between the boy and girl, who seem to be ages 11 and 9 respectively. They once asked me politely if "Please could I pass their ball back over the fence to them".

What distresses me most, though, is that despite having the tenancy to a home that has a market value of £240,000 and which has been provided to them by Newham Council by virtue of their position on the Homeless List, they have no regard or appreciation for the very fresh air and greenery that they are so fortunate to have been given. I wonder how all those key-workers in London for whom affordable Housing is so difficult to find, would feel if they could see what I see.

I heard the little girl two weeks ago having a tantrum in the back garden (well, it doesn't look like a garden anymore, so adjust your mental image to something akin to a neglected yardspace). She was screaming, "I HATE GRASS! I HATE GRASS!"

The front garden of the house is large yet completely ignored by the parents. I have never seen the Dad do anything physical around the home: he appears fit, smartly and comfortably attired, yet I have never seen him even put the rubbish into the bin.

Consequently the front garden has become a rubbish yard. Last Friday, I returned to find that they had thrown a single mattress willy nilly onto it, together with so much cardboard boxing that appeared to be from new flat pack furniture for two bedrooms. Plastic wrapping and styrofoam scattered over the front "garden". A few days later the kids were throwing the styrofoam pieces about and snapping them to make noise. Did it occur to them or their parents to put it into the wheelie bin? No. In fact on Bin Day, they seemed scornful that the bin men had left the bin only just inside the garden gate. So scornful that they spent the next 24 hours following a detour around the wheelie bin that was blocking their own garden path. They eventually figured that they might as well move their own wheelie bin themselves, off the garden path to its usual home by the front door. Only 24 hours to take the initiative to "lift a finger", and they have two healthy children and ample visitors to help them out as well.

Almost one week later, and it still hasn't occurred to them that they could at least pick up the styrofoam pieces and plastic wrappings, and cut up the cardboard boxing, and put it all in the wheelie bin. You have to wonder if they see England as a place that they can treat with contempt. In any country in the world, children from a young age are taught to pick up after themselves, yet here we have two healthy adults and two children, who seem to think that England will pick up after them.

I rang ARHAG , which as I mentioned before is the African Refugee Housing Association Group, which has the 15 year Lease from Newham Council to manage and tenant the property. One Mr. Khan was very understanding, and mentioned that it is a terrible problem nowadays: that although you can give them a good home, you then have to expend considerable effort to give the tenants instruction and remind them of what are really simple responsibilities. He was going to instruct the Housing Officer to have a word with my neighbours. Unfortunately, the Housing Officer is on holiday in Ethiopia at the moment. (Interestingly, I had already decided that my neighbours were from Ethiopia, because I'm pretty good at amateur anthropology, and living in Newham, I have plenty of opportunity to practise this little hobby.)

Oh surely there must be thousands of tenants that are far more deserving than they? I have not noticed yet that either parent works, but they are not destitute or disabled, and not without a social support network of visiting friends. (Indeed I dare say that they have more visiting friends than I do!) Their attitudes are also apparently from a higher class background in their original country where they disdain physical or manual work.

What is the Housing Allocations policy in Britain, and when is it ever going to be made more fair?

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