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Police station targeted by housing activists

Congratulations to the ‘Balcony 4’ and Focus E15 campaigners  who successfully dropped banners from a disused, sold off and boarded-up police station in East Ham on Sunday 10 July 2016, to highlight the current crisis in housing.  This action took place during the Mayor’s Newham Show (will he call it the Robin Wales Show next year?!) – which is a two day council-sponsored event that takes place in a local park in East Ham.  Focus E15 campaign was determined to let people know what is really happening in the Labour controlled borough of Newham where Mayor Robin Wales is still at the helm. As the Mayor’s show took place, this action unfolded.

The background  story is that the campaign has protested during the mayor’s show over the last two years. In 2014, Robin Wales over-reacted to young mothers talking about rights to housing  during the show and a complaint was lodged against him. He faced the Newham Standards Committee and was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct (watch from 1.45: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk). Then in 2015, the council ordered private security to stop campaigners handing out leaflets during the Mayor’s show and had campaigners forcibly removed from the park in a heavy handed manner. (http://youtu.be/SpbnD9RzuQ0).

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During the Mayor’s show this year, one of Newham’s many empty buildings became a target.  Three large banners were unfurled from the balconies of a boarded up police station as a crowd gathered down below. The banners read “Newham – hundreds of empty homes“; “Room for everyone, No room for Racism“; “Stop social cleansing, keep us in London“.  Campaigners from the Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, The Green Party, Sisters Uncut, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and passers-by took to the mic to express their disgust at the amount of properties left empty by Newham council and demanded the reopening of the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Many drivers hooted in support and passers-by joined in the protest and gave out leaflets.  One campaigner explained:

“…If they leave buildings empty like this police station – we will use them to make a political point. The housing crisis is driving people to despair and there should be no empty buildings whilst people are left to rot on our streets. We are also fed up of politicians blaming migrants for the housing shortage – it is just a dangerous lie -which is why one of our banners says – No Room for Racism…”

Whilst Robin Wales and his entourage were swanning around the park, the reality for thousands of people living in Newham is increased insecurity: rents are always rising, council homes are  being sold off and more people are living in overcrowded, appalling temporary accommodation. 35% of Newham residents earn below the London Living Wage, yet the mayor has a salary of £80,000 and last year the same amount again was spent on his expenses. 

Hundreds of messages of support for the temporary occupation of the police station’s balconies came flooding into the campaign. The Balcony 4 came down at end of the protest to applause and loud cheers from everyone on the ground.

Focus E15 campaign would like to say a big thank you  to all those who supported this action, with  your presence, your cameras and your voices, and to the speakers from East End Sisters Uncut, Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and Newham Green Party. Another successful action, working together and challenging Newham Labour Council!

The campaign  would also like to send our solidarity and congratulations to East End Sisters Uncut for their current occupation of empty council homes in Hackney as they highlight the cuts to services for domestic violence and the closure of refuges. Please support their occupation over the coming days and weeks.

Focus E15 campaign’s next public meeting is on Saturday 2nd August 2016 at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN, to discuss ways forward for the campaign. Join us at 2.30pm

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NOT the Mayor’s Newham Show -Sunday street stall

Join the campaign on Sunday July 10 at  Newham Town Hall, Barking Road, East Ham from 3pm onwards.

Focus E15 campaign will be setting up a street stall at Newham Town Hall this Sunday at 3pm to shine a spotlight on Newham’s housing crisis during the Mayor’s Newham Show. Last year campaigners were forcibly removed from the show as they spoke out against evictions and social cleansing. This year we will celebrate our resistance by setting up a special street stall outside the town hall. During the street stall we will be speaking out against evictions and highlighting that:

Newham has the most empty properties out of any London borough, around 1,318 properties are lying empty – the total value of these empty properties stands at almost £470m.

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In September 2015 Focus E15 organised a March Against Evictions that took place in Newham

In 2015, 244 families from Newham were permanently sent out of London, with Newham Council citing that there was no space or money to house them in the borough.

If these issues matter to you, come and join out street stall outside East Ham town hall. If you have not been to the street stall before, just come and say hello if you are passing to go to the Newham Show. Join the campaign to demand that the empty properties in Newham are opened up to those who need them most. Put human being first! Stop sending people out of London.Decent homes for everyone!
Join the special street stall this Sunday and make your voices heard with Focus E15 campaign.

Please help spread the word and keep up to date with this event by joining the facebook event

Social Housing, NOT social cleansing!

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Children forced to live in appalling conditions

On Monday 27th June 2016, Boundary House residents went to Waltham Forest council’s housing office, Cedar House, to fight back against the appalling conditions they have been forced to live in.

Boundary House is a block of one-bedroom flats of ‘temporary accommodation’ in Welwyn Garden City which is outside London. From there it is a long and expensive commute back to Walthamstow where most of its current residents are from. The distance and cost means that residents are isolated from their family, friends and support networks, with one mother of two being forced to quit her job in London, as she could no longer afford the commute.

The conditions there are terrible, with mould, cockroaches, overcrowding and dangerous faulty appliances. One resident, pregnant and living with her young daughter, had to survive the winter with no heating. Still today, their heating has not been fixed.

On the third floor of Boundary house there is a young mother living with her now four month old baby, who was delivered by C-section. As there are no lifts in the block of flats, and the block is not safe or secure enough to leave the pushchair down stairs, every time this mother wants to go out she must carry her baby in the pushchair up and down three flights of stairs. The strain of this has meant that she has not been able to fully heal from the operation.

Boundary House was not built with families in mind. Nonetheless, Waltham Forest council have been sending their constituents to this accommodation and have done nothing to ensure the properties are fit for purpose. When Boundary House residents tried to raise these issues to Waltham Forest council, they have received little, if any, responses to their letters, phone calls and emails.

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Boundary House residents prepare to march to the housing office

This is why on Monday 27th of June, Boundary House residents decided enough if enough. Supported by Focus E15, and others,  we marched on the housing office, as a united community to demand to speak to someone who could act upon our demands. When we arrived,  security tried to refuse us entrance into the office. But we did not stand for it and insisted to be let it. Once the security had conceded to our demands to enter, we were told the Director of housing would not be able meet us. We refused to accept this and told them we would not move until Boundary House residents were able to speak to someone in charge.

It did not take long for the council to concede, and we won a group meeting with the Director of Housing for Waltham Forest Council, whom some Boundary House residents have been trying to get in contact with for over two years. We were taken to a conference room, and every resident had the chance to tell their story, express their concerns, fears and frustrations, and to demand the Waltham Forest Council treat its residents with respect and dignity.

In the meeting, the Director of Housing agreed to listen to our demands, to investigate the appalling conditions of Boundary House, and to hold another meeting in the coming weeks to update Boundary House residents as to what actions they have taken improve from the current conditions. This is a small victory of Boundary House Residents.

The action has demonstrated that when we fight together, they cannot ignore us! We will continue to fight, to make sure that Waltham Forest council holds true to their words, and we will continue to demand that Waltham Forest council bring Boundary House residents back to London.

SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
Joins us on our street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway on Saturday from 12pm.

 

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Pushed out of London into unsafe accomodation

The residents of Boundary House, were pushed out of their homes in Waltham Forest, and placed in temporary accommodation in Welwyn Garden City. Some residents have now been there for almost four years. The conditions are dirty, dangerous and unsuitable for families and children. The residents are living with mould, cockroach infestation, temperamental water supplies and cramped conditions.

The commute to London is expensive and time consuming, meaning residents have been isolated from their communities and support networks. Waltham Forest Council has neglected their duty of care, and continue to to ignore the concerns of their constituents.

On Monday 27th June member of the Focus E15 campaign, some of the residents and other housing activists will be going to Waltham Forest Council to demand decent and safe homes for all the residents in Boundary House.

Join us!  Raise our voices. Meet us on Monday 27 June at 11.00am at Cedar House, 2A Fulbourne Rd, London E17 4EE, Waltham Forest Housing Office.

In the meantime you can help spread the message if you sign and share the petition  and read the demands of the residents.

Please join the facebook event for this action and spread the word through your networks.
 

Social Housing not social cleansing!

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Sanctioned while waiting to be sanctioned

A core member of the Focus E15 Campaign, Sam Middleton, has been caught in the catch 22 system of benefit sanctions.  She and another member of the Focus E15 campaign Kate Belgrave, recently spent a day figuratively wandering through the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the Department of Work and Pensions.

By Kate Belgrave 

Yesterday, I spent god knows how long on the phone to the Department for Work and Pensions (a charged-for call, if you don’t mind), having the most ridiculous conversation that I (and probably anyone) has ever had with them.

Finish reading the  rest of Kate Belgrave’s post here

More from Kate Belgrave at www.katebelgrave.com

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Everyday people face evictions in Newham

Newham’s housing is a health risk
Newham is the most overcrowded borough in London with conditions for many residents increasingly best described as slum housing. In Olympic legacy Labour Newham, in the fifth richest country in the world, every day people face evictions, social cleansing and literally being dumped on the streets.  Below are just two examples of the consequences of what can happen when you remove social housing.

Jennifer is the mother of five children and a grandmother. On Wednesday 8 June she will be at Bridge House homelessness Unit in Stratford, east London in the borough of Newham. Jennifer is about to be made homeless for the second time in nine months. She has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years, shunted from pillar to post, and in this last home, didn’t even totally unpack when she moved in nine months ago because she didn’t think it would last. She is right, a housing association put her in private rented accommodation and now the landlord says no more, possession order has come, meeting at Bridge House and all the usual emotions of fear, insecurity, shame, powerlessness. What will Jennifer tell her son who is on the autistic spectrum and is just settling in yet another home, when they have to move again, what of her son doing GCSEs and anxious about his exams. These are the issues facing her again.

Focus E15 campaign is supporting Jennifer in her request for long term stable housing in Newham. Housing Justice for Jennifer!

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Jennifer, second from the right joins the Focus E15 street stall

On Saturday 4 June, Focus E15 campaign held its monthly public meeting. The theme was Housing is a Mental Health Issue. A speaker from Psychologists Against Austerity spoke of the direct and indirect effect of poor housing and overcrowding on our physical and mental health. At the end of the meeting we met Beverley, a resident of Focus E15 building, or Brimstone House as Newham Council would like it now to be known, who is facing eviction. She has physical and mental health needs.  On Tuesday 7 June, Beverley was told to leave Brimstone House. When they  first placed her in Brimstone House, Newham Council said it was interim accommodation while a decision was made on whether to provide her with housing. Her dog, vital to help her maintain her health, was not allowed in the room and Beverley had to give her dog away causing her great anguish. The council assessed her as ‘homeless and eligible but not priority need’. She has now had her Housing Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) stopped. On Wednesday 8 June they will come to evict her and with no duty to house her, Beverley will be on the streets.

When Robin Wales announced in April that Newham Council had bought Focus E15 hostel, Brimstone House, from East Thames Housing Association, he said: ‘We cannot turn down this unique opportunity which makes both financial sense at the same time as helping some of our most vulnerable residents.’ So tell us Robin Wales, Labour Mayor of Newham, how throwing vulnerable people out onto the streets with their belongings is helpful?

On Thursday 16 June, at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, Newham Labour Council is up for an award for the best trading standards and environmental health and has been nominated in the best environmental health category. What a slap in the face for the Newham residents who know the reality.

Expose the shameful actions of this Labour council.  No one should be indefinitely in temporary accommodation! No one should be out on the streets!

Repopulate the Carpenters Estate where over 400 homes in Stratford lie empty.

Join Focus E15 campaign weekly stall every Saturday 12-2pm, on The Broadway, E15 outside Wilko’s.

Join the protest at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards  where both Newham and Lambeth are due to receive awards:
Thursday 16 June 6.30pm
Hilton Hotel London W1K 1BE  

Social housing not social cleansing!

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Living  out of bags at Focus E15 hostel – awaiting eviction.

 

 

 

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Militant suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst inspires housing campaigners.

When councils choose names for our streets, parks and libraries, the radical past and present is often ignored. With this in mind, Focus E15’s newly acquired office/organising space has been named ‘Sylvia’s Corner’ after the militant suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst.  The space will be used as a base for Focus E15 campaign to organise from and will be available for other progressive groups in the area to use. If you can make a small regular donation to help fund the space for housing activists to use  -there are some links at the bottom of the page.

Please read on to find out more about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst.  

Sylvia Pankhurst was an active socialist  and suffragette organiser in the East End of London. She organised with working class women, speaking to 1000s of people in mass meetings about women’s rights. Throughout her life she was an outspoken critic of the British Empire and she formed links with the struggle for a free and independent Ireland. She was an early communist, inspired by the Russian Revolution and later on in her life became an anti-fascist organiser.  She was known in the East End of London, amongst working class women as ‘our Sylvia’.

Sylvia Pankhurst purposely broke away from the elitism of the Women’s Social and Political Union that was led by her Mother, Emmeline and her sister Christabel – who were chiefly interested in respectable upper class women gaining the vote. They did not think working class women should be leading the suffrage movement.

In response Sylvia Pankhurst formed the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1912. She believed in the power of mass action from below and that the movement for women’s suffrage should be led directly by working class women. Sylvia explained that women should be “revolting against the hideous conditions about them and demanding for themselves and their families a full share of the benefits of civilisation and progress”. Sylvia forged links with unions and inspired local community resistance when she came under attack from the police.

Sylvia Pankhurst

She launched a newspaper called the Women’s Dreadnought in 1914 to amplify the voices of working class women. Housing issues were often written about and discussed inside its pages. At one point 20,000 copies a week were printed and handed out across the East End of London. During the First World War which Sylvia opposed, she renamed her newspaper ‘The Workers Dreadnought’. She helped to organise various social centres across east London so that women could come together to talk about their lives and base the politics on their lived experiences.

Despite these remarkable achievements and commitment to the struggle, Sylvia Pankhurst has often been ignored and her importance downplayed in the official histories of the Suffragettes  – as well as out of the history of radical ideas.

Focus E15 campaign was started by young mothers in the East End who were fighting for decent housing. They were prepared to challenge the system and confront authority. Therefore calling the campaigns newly acquired space Sylvia’s Corner directly links the current struggles led by todays  militant women to the inspiring revolutionary struggles of the past.

Please help Focus E15  Campaign keep  a base from which to organise from. Help us keep Sylvia’s corner  -an independent, political and community space in the East End of London.

500 people paying £2 per month could fund Sylvia’s Corner   or

100 people paying £5 per month could fund Sylvia’s Corner

Thank you for your support. Housing is a human right! No social cleansing!

 

 

 

 

Community solidarity for Focus E15 action - Housing is a mental health issue!

Emergency – housing is a mental health issue.

On 21st May, to mark the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, Focus E15 Campaign held a demonstration in Stratford to force a spotlight onto Newham council who have left empty homes boarded up on the Carpenters Estate  and to make a link that the current housing crisis is having an adverse effect on people’s mental health.  

Many people took the opportunity to use the open microphone. Speeches, live music, chanting and an impromptu march  highlighted the link between mental health and housing insecurity. The point was also made that taking collective action is empowering and good for our mental wellbeing.

Passerby stopped to hear how people are being decanted, evicted, abandoned and forced out of their homes at catastrophic rates  – currently someone in England is threatened with eviction every 90 seconds. Newham has the highest number of households in temporary accommodation of any London borough and the devastating consequences that housing conditions are having on people’s mental health should be obvious. To constantly worry that the roof over your head will not be there tomorrow is traumaticThe stress and isolation that comes from housing insecurity is causing a mental health crisis.

Dangerous and overcrowded accommodation; temporary housing, isolation from family and friends, evictions, homelessness, social cleansing, children out of school, job losses: these are the issues so many people are facing and they are making people sick. As people are evicted from their homes and socially cleansed out of London, they are not only being forced into places that are making them ill, but they are cut off from the very support networks that keep them healthy. 

Thank you to everyone who stood together in our community to raise these important issues. The fight back continues. Collective action makes us stronger and gives us back our mental health! In the words of a campaigner on the day:

No political party has any solutions. Families are being evicted every day. People are getting ill. Children are suffering. This is a rich country but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at what is happening to the most vulnerable people and their housing. We must stand together to avoid drowning.’

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Community solidarity for the Focus E15 action – Housing is a mental health issue May 21st 2016

 

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Housing is a mental health issue: Root Shock and the London housing crisis

At our last campaign meeting Joe Hoover from City University  talked about human rights and housing, drawing on work of activist groups such as ONE DC in  Washington DC, and other groups in Chicago. He provided us with shocking figures of US homelessness, displacement, decanting, racism and then talked about the resistance and inspiration given by movements in Brazil, South Africa and tactics used. The discussion included making links to what is going on in London and Newham in particular and Joe spoke of Rootshock and the human/psychological suffering imposed by being torn from one’s roots.

Read Joe’s guest blogpost below, where he explains more about this concept of Root Shock. 

 

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. In Newham Council, and other councils across the UK, there will be a week of events to highlight the importance of mental health. There is, however, a troubling absence on their calendar of events. Newham Council is not talking about housing as a mental health issue. In fact, Newham Council, like councils across London, is undermining the mental health of the individuals and communities they are tasked with serving.

Mental health difficulties can make it hard for individuals to find and keep a secure home, but the types of homes and communities we build also have a profound effect on our mental well being. In London our public officials and government bodies too often fail to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable, but to make matters worse they are making more and more Londoners vulnerable to displacement. While planners and developers speak of “regeneration” or “renewal”, the communities that are losing their homes know this process as displacement, as social cleansing. When we destroy buildings and rebuild urban centres in the interest of investors over residents, we harm communities and individuals. Displacement is a collective psychological trauma.

Dr Mindy Fullilove has developed the idea of root shock (http://www.rootshock.org) to describe the ‘traumatic stress reaction to the loss of some or all of one’s emotional ecosystem.’ What she describes is the loss of our sense of place in the world, the loss of our community, when we are forced out of homes by war, disaster or urban renewal. When we are forced from our community, and when communities themselves are destroyed, our attachment to our home is severed. We lose the bond between person and beloved space. As our attachments are severed we are also taken away from our familiar environment, which is a psychological and social injury. When we lose our familiarity with our environment we lose the detailed cognitive knowledge we have of places, people and ourselves. Finally, as we are taken from the places and people we know well, our sense of identity suffers. The cumulative effect of this loss is what Dr Fullilove calls root shock, and its consequences are far reaching for communities and individuals that have been uprooted.

The trauma of root shock increases an individual’s vulnerability to violence, substance abuse, physical illness and mental illness. As has been documented in The Sprit Level (https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/the-spirit-level), we know that inequality is bad for our health, but when we add the loss of homes the harm of poverty and inequality is made worse. When communities lose their emotional ecosystems and place in the world, it exposes individuals to violence and economic hardship when they are moved to deprived areas, and to isolation as they are separated from friends, families and networks of care.

If we do not recognise the trauma of displacement we cannot address the harm done by removing people from their homes. We have to stop seeing the destruction of communities as a business investment and recognise it as an injury, committed against individuals. Recognising housing as a mental health issue means focusing on preventing this trauma. Dr Fullilove talks about the need for prevention as a strategy of resistance: primary prevention should seek to protect homes and communities from destruction; secondary prevention should seek to limit the devastation to communities already under threat; and tertiary prevention should seek to rebuild communities damaged by displacement.

 

Thinking of housing as a central element of our emotional ecosystem reveals that our public officials and institutions are failing us. We must demand that Newham Council, and councils across London, serve the needs of the people and build healthy communities.

By Joe Hoover.

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More Focus Mothers contact the campaign

Another one of the original mothers contacted the campaign to give her story of what really happened during the time she was served an eviction notice whilst living at Focus E15 hostel. She wishes to remain anonymous.

Q1: How did Newham council support you while you were living in and being evicted from Focus E15, nearly 3 years ago?

Personally I feel like there was no support from Newham council. We were initially given a list of landlords and we were told to find our own accommodation. We all were desperately calling and trying to find somewhere to live but we had no luck. Then out of nowhere I heard we were getting moved out of London,  this is when all the panic set in.

Not once did Newham council contact me or had meetings to explain what they were planning on doing – they basically left it up to the support workers at Focus hostel, and sometimes they couldn’t even give us answers.

Q2 This is a quote from Newham councils comment on our website; ” The council, working closely with East Thames, has gone above and beyond to help find suitable accommodation for all the supported young people … Many found move on accommodation of their own while East Thames and the council helped many more.”  Is this accurate and how does it make you feel?

As for helping us find suitable accommodation- trying to send us away from our families and friends is not ‘helping’. If we didn’t come together as mothers and if we didn’t fight -only God knows where we would be right now. 

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Q3: Do you know of any residents that were socially cleansed or made homeless from Focus E15?

We were told to move out of London. The few who moved out of London – I’m sure they regret it and I believe the only reason they took the offer was because they felt they had no choice and others just wanted to get out of Focus ASAP, some might even regret moving so far away but the rest of us had to fight to stay in Newham/London with our families.

Q4: Where do you think you will be living in a years time?

Who knows where I will be in a year. Anything can happen from now until then.

Focus E15 campaign will be publishing more interviews with the original Focus E15 mothers over the next 10 days.

Social Housing! Not Social Cleansing!