OCTOBER 31, 1945
NEW YORK, Tuesday—Yesterday afternoon I went with some members of the Citizens' Housing Committee to visit an old-law tenement: a house with no hot water and no heat, a house which many families call home—here in the biggest city of the U. S. A.! In one place, an old man and woman occupy two rooms, with one stove on the left of a narrow hall as you go in. They pile up little bits of wood to keep themselves warm, quite evidently garnered from stray boxes or cases found in the neighborhood. The old lady was a pathetic sight—sick, and unable to speak our language very well. I felt guilty as I looked at her, for though she could have been more unhappy in the land from which she came, I realized that our land of promise must be a disappointment to her and many others like her who have come here hoping never again to see the sub-standards which they left behind—but which, alas, we have in some of these old, condemned tenement houses.
On Election Day the people of the State of New York are going to find Proposition Number One on their ballots. I hope they will vote yes on this proposition, for unless that money is voted to subsidize slum clearance the work will not go on. If it is passed, at least 20,000 families will live decently in this city of ours. Most of this money will be spent in New York City, but it must be voted by the state. The money is on hand and we should not let it lie idle.
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As we were coming home, I could not help wondering whether some of the conditions even in war-torn countries were much worse than those we have here, in a country which has been so miraculously saved from all material destruction.
I wish I knew, however, just how to bring home to the members of Congress the need for being generous with these same war-torn countries. I think it makes an extremely bad impression for us to be behind Great Britain, which has suffered far more than we have, in voting not only our complete contribution to the UNRRA fund for this year, but in giving our assurance that these funds will be available again for next year.
Mr. Lehman's statement that in Europe, alone, 180,000,000 people "were on the borderline of starvation" and that "it is a race against time to save hundreds of thousands of people from starvation and plague" should make us tremble. Such conditions do not stay restricted in one area. If they exist in Europe, you will find them spreading back into our own country. Former Governor Lehman is not a sensationalist person, nor even a dramatic one, and I am quite sure he was extremely careful not to overstate the situation.
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As I stood in that wretched tenement, I thought of what a place like that meant not just to the people who lived in it, but to the people of our whole city. And as I see us holding back and not entering with wholehearted generosity into the work for which UNRRA stands for, I am appalled at the harm this indifference may do us as a nation.