Bexley has a housing problem, you’ve seen the newspaper headlines about families sent to Manchester, you may have given a pound to the ‘rough sleepers’ who congregate in and around the road crossing subways. Maybe they are attracted to Bexley because of its reputation for cheaper accommodation, maybe UKIP have a point and the situation is the result of uncontrolled immigration. I don’t know but it’s not hard to imagine that being homeless must be among the very worst things that can happen to a family or individual.
A week ago Bexley council, or perhaps I should say councillor Eileen Pallen, the cabinet member for Adult’s Services, announced that it was going to use the former Homeleigh Care Home in Erith for temporary housing accommodation.
Almost immediately I was on the receiving end of a small deluge of email notifications expressing alarm and my first reaction I am sorry to say was “God help the residents of Avenue Road”. I am influenced by the fact that Bexley council has for more years than I can remember leased a house opposite to mine. It has been a crime centre, occupied by drug addicts, drug dealers and ‘night workers’.
I have seen superficially attractive young women sun bathing in the front garden smoking and begging money and mutilated by scars on their arms. A neighbour who left his house at the wrong time bears an ugly scar on his forehead after being bottled by an addict. Another was threatened with death for failing to mend an addict’s television aerial. The police and ambulance service have been kept very busy. All in a quiet residential area and all because of Bexley council. And then earlier this month the recent occupants were rounded up and - according to rumour - sent to Manchester.
Last week the broken windows were replaced and a new family moved in. What a difference, so far at least. Clean curtains instead of tobacco stained nets, ornaments on the window ledge and a cat peering out of the window.
The stream of nocturnal visitors looking for ‘a fix’ has gone and all is quiet again.
The years of sleepless nights for the immediate neighbours were due in part to Bexley council’s reluctance to act swiftly. The police would take occupants away and two days later they would return, the police probably every bit as frustrated as those who have to live nearby. Twice the problem has been solved because the occupants were jailed - and then Bexley moved in someone just as bad.
Councillor Pallen’s scheme is obviously well intentioned and in principle to be welcomed and applauded. The success or otherwise of her Homeleigh initiative will be dependent on careful selection of the families housed there. Not everyone who is homeless is a threat to society, most will probably be no different to you and me.
If I lived near to Homeleigh and was attending this evening’s meeting I’d be pushing Eileen Pallen hard on her selection criteria and what she will do and how quickly if she gets it wrong. But councillor Pallen should be congratulated on her plan to keep local families local when they fall on hard times. Manchester is welcome to Coptefield Drive’s drug addicts. Children can safely play outside again.
The scheme is subject to planning permission but the existence of so many Tory sheep makes that a mere formality.