In passing through this building, I observed a young man of foreign appearance seated in a window-place reading a book, and asked his history. I was told that he was a German of education, whose ambition it is to become a librarian in his native country. He had come to England in order to learn our language, and being practically without means, drifted into this place, where he was employed in cleaning the windows and pursued his studies in the intervals of that humble work. Let us hope that in due course his painstaking industry will be rewarded, and his ambition fulfilled.
All these cases, and others that I have no space to mention, belonged to the class of what I may call the regular ‘hangers-on’ of this particular Shelter. As I visited it in the middle of the day, I did not see its multitude of normal nightly occupants. Of such men, however, I shall be able to speak elsewhere.
The next Institution that I inspected was that of a paper-sorting works at Spa Road, Bermondsey, where all sorts of waste paper are dealt with in enormous quantities. Of this stuff some is given and some is bought. Upon delivery it goes to the sorters, who separate it out according to the different classes of the material, after which it is pressed into bales by hydraulic machinery and sold to merchants to be re-made.
These works stand upon two acres of land. Parts of the existing buildings were once a preserve factory, but some of them have been erected by the Army. There remain upon the site certain dwelling-houses, which are still let to tenants. These are destined to be pulled down whenever money is forthcoming to extend the factory.
The object of the Institution is to find work for distressed or fallen persons, and restore them to society. The Manager of this ‘Elevator,’ as it is called, informed me that it employs about 480 men, all of whom are picked up upon the streets. As a rule, these men are given their board and lodging in return for work during the first week, but no money, as their labour is worth little. In the second week, 6d. is paid to them in cash; and, subsequently, this remuneration is added to in proportion to the value of the labour, till in the end some of them earn 8s. or 9s. a week in addition to their board and lodging.
I asked the Officer in charge what he had to say as to the charges of sweating and underselling which have been brought against the Salvation Army in connexion with this and its other productive Institutions.