‘Come round to my pad, I mean pod’ by Anne

‘Come Round to my Pad, I mean Pod’

I noticed an article about pod housing for London homeless people in Timeout. My immediate thought was how inadequate is that! Nowhere near enough and why shove people into something so small and temporary when there’s so many empty properties. That said I’m not on the streets.

A further enquiry showed that at the end of June a flurry of articles emerged in the press announcing a scheme to build 200 “pods” over the next five years for people who were rough sleepers in London, at a cost of £37 000 each, more than the average cost to refurbish an empty one bed flat.

The articles speak in glowing terms about how this is an answer to the London “homeless problem”, cheap, eco-friendly and an alternative to temporary housing;  the pods are designed to last more than 60 years.

Is something this small seriously an alternative? I’m unable to find the size of these pods. A similar scheme proposes pods of “a cosy 242 sq ft”, well below the accepted space standards of 400 sq ft for a one bed social housing property, standards which are be  ing eroded. These pods look far smaller, not much bigger than a hotel room.

Is something so small likely to be offered (or even desirable) permanently? I have very strong views against temporary housing. I see what it does to families here on Cressingham Gardens where fifty properties out of 300 are let on temporary contracts. I know the difficulty people have making plans. One resident told me it took six months to find a school for her autistic daughter. She lives in constant fear of being moved on at a weeks notice. It’s hard to get repairs. They are treated like second class citizens; another resident told me she is not even allowed to register her business at her home. Originally from South Africa, she described it as “apartheid in housing.”

I keep hearing the American expression, “Do the math!” At the rate of building 40 properties per year it could take anything between 7.5 to ten years to provide this alternative for all the people sleeping rough in London at this present time. According to data released in April from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain), more than 3,000 people were recorded sleeping rough in London during the third lockdown between January and March this year.

What disturbs me most about this scheme is the way it seems to propose scattering this pods in empty spaces throughout the capital, “We don’t know where the new pods will be built just yet, but councils and landowners have been asked to find suitable spots for them and the groups are looking to get the Ministry of Housing on board to back the project.”

Call me old fashioned if you like but I believe a real home is not just four walls it’s being part of a community on a street or housing estate; whether a private development or social housing. It’s being able to turn to people when you are in trouble or having others turn to you, especially if you are vulnerable.

Here on Cressingham Gardens, a council estate in South West London, like in the street where I grew up in Stevenage New Town,  people know each other and look out for each other. If I go away I know someone will be watching my place and watering the front garden. Yet this estate, like many across London, is threatened with demolition, because regeneration, despite its well evidenced failures and the financial and environmental cost, is the current fad. And hence the rising numbers of potential homes offered only as temporary or left void on this estate and across London.

I believe people that are rough sleeping deserve a decent alternative to the street. Not a not-so-quick, not-so-cheap, claustrophobic, isolated pod. I’m curious to know what people who have experienced rough sleeping think of this and other similar “pocket” housing schemes.

Anne Enith Cooper is a writer, poet and housing and climate activist https://seedsandfuses.wordpress.com/blog/