By Hannah Chowdhry
Sometime in the 1920’s a struggling author named Eric Arthur Blair wrote an account of his near homelessness in France and experience of washing dishes in Paris restaurants.
He later coupled the publication with a further description of a period of time he spent homeless in London, using artistic licence to create the impression he was actually homeless and not simply living as a vagrant for his research. His publication met with rave reviews and 55,000 copies of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ were eventually printed by penguin books in 1940. Read more (here)
The author many years later became ranked as Britain’s second most important authors since 1945 under his pseudonym George Orwell (which many of you will recognise). Quite interestingly his article mentioned the work of the Salvation Army and other church establishments some positive, some derogatory and even went as far as naming the town of Ilford in one of the pages near the end of a chapter. Even back then it could be seen that the town of Ilford was known as a place where homeless people could expect a good meal – although the cafe involved seems to have been cheating the homeless of the full value of their voucher which was distributed by the Salvation Army.
Our group discovered the history of the book after speaking to the pub landlord of the Prince of Wales Pub opposite our community centre, where I was having a meal with my father. David Christof the owner was once illiterate but 12 years ago had taught himself to read and this was the first book he read.
Hearing about our homeless feeding centre reminded him of the extract within the book and he was encouraged by the fact that Christian charities are still helping the homeless, just as they were a hundred years ago. Though not a believer himself he said it was inspiring that Christians have such heart for community.
Hearing about the book and its mention of my former home town challenged me to purchase the book and read it. I learnt how much the same as today homeless people travel all across London to obtain help and assistance. Much due to the rules regarding stay-length at homeless shelters to anywhere between 3 to 30 days. In the old day homeless people would have to walk miles for each centre and were required to pay for them – not an exorbitant price mind you, but then again the state of them as described by Mr Orwell was pretty disgusting. In modern times access is free and the homeless will use bikes or oyster cards to get from one venue to the next.