Will the new Newham Labour Mayor save Carpenters Estate?

Focus E15 campaign hosted a packed meeting on Saturday 10th November and discussed the uncertain fate of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. The reason the campaign keeps returning to this discussion is because Newham council has left 3 tower blocks empty on the estate for over 10 years. This means almost 400 flats have been left empty during a national housing crisis. The fact that homes have remained empty is a gross injustice felt by those forced to leave their estate and community. Some residents evicted were told they would be given the right of return – but have heard nothing from the council since.

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Banner by Andrew Cooper. See https://andrewcooper-unseen.org/portfolio/banners/

Saving council housing must be an immediate priority for Labour controlled Newham Council, where 1 in 25 people are homeless. Focus E15 campaign upholds the principle that every human being has the right to safe, long term affordable housing which means that council estates need saving from private developers looking to make profits. What is one of the worst thing a council could do to its own residents? Using bullying threats and evicting residents from their own homes and handing estates over to private companies must come close to the top of any list.

With this in mind, campaigners read (with their eyes wide open) in the Newham Recorder last month that the new Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz seems to be signalling a change of direction regarding the future prospects of Carpenters Estate. Is a desperately hoped for sea change really at hand? In the article, Rokhsana Fiaz talks about the “redevelopment” of the estate, explaining that a master-plan will be developed which “means making sure we listen to residents and explore every option”.

Focus E15 campaign awaits to see what the plan will be. Now is the time for courageous, bold and imaginative ideas in order to save and build new council housing on the estate for the people of Newham. This is why the campaign is asking the council to carefully consider the social, financial and environmental costs of demolition. Sensible and financially viable alternatives to demolition do exist, like those the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) are advocating. Their plans include refurbishment and building on disused land. As ASH argue, this would be a far more cost effective option than demolition and if adopted could be a blueprint to follow for councils across the land.

Roksana Fiaz has said that an announcement regarding the estate is imminent. Will the council come up with exciting and humane plans that differ from the wrecking ball model that is causing misery and heartache to council tenants on estates across the country? Will Newham Council break free from the lure of private developers and by doing so offer hope to council tenants everywhere? This could be achieved by treating the estate as valuable, not because of land value or the chance to sell properties to investors but because of the value in community: the mental and physical health of local residents is important and the task of saving future generations from destitution and social cleansing is urgent. A council estate can provide long term security and affordable rent to residents – just part of the remedy needed to help ease the housing crisis in Newham where too many people are shut out of having a decent future. Rokhsana Fiaz and Newham council…. this is your challenge. We also demand an immediate end to all evictions and out of borough/out of London housing placements while housing policies are being addressed.

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Demands from Newham residents living in Brimstone house grow louder

Brimstone house in Stratford in Newham East London is the name of the former Focus E15 hostel. Conditions have changed very little since Robin Wales closed down the mother and baby unit there 5 years ago. Families are still living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, unsure of how long they will be left there and extremely worried about being evicted and being sent out of London altogether by Newham council. Focus E15 campaign believe that residents from Brimstone house need to be rehoused in their community close to their support networks and this is what residents are demanding.

The stressful eviction process should stop- however families must not be left in prison like conditions for years on end! Suitable accommodation must be found (even if that means the Council opening up empty properties in the borough) as big, bold solutions are urgently needed to provide Newham residents with long term housing.

Residents have come up with demands which were discussed and given to the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing at a significant meeting that took place at Stratford Town Hall on Saturday 27 October.

Immediate demands

  • Open the conservatory space in Brimstone House for communal use and open the locked children’s park next door.
  • Review the security procedures so that they protect the residents instead of punishing/hindering them
  • More washing machines should be provided at no extra cost to residents with an aim of creating a community run launderette with an attendant.

Below are wider demands (however residents would still like to see action on these before Christmas!):

  • No more evictions from Brimstone house until safe, suitable accommodation is found in Newham, like  Carpenters Estate
  • To recognise that everyone has the right to refuse accommodation outside of the borough without being labelled as ‘intentionally homeless’ (sic). End the use of this policy!
  • Stop threats from council workers to involve social services (i.e if you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ we will rehouse your children but not you).

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Housing should be seen a basic right in a rich country like ours.
Victory to Brimstone house residents in their fight for decent long term housing! 

Dublin and Glasgow  – first hand reports from the Housing Struggles!

Reports from recent solidarity trips to Take Back The City Dublin and Living Rent Campaign Glasgow

Active solidarity with anti-racist housing campaigns is key in the struggle to build a unified movement to challenge a system which is failing from one City to the next.  Debating different methods and politics with other housing campaigns is an important part of our work.  To that end we were recently hosted by Take Back The City Dublin and also by Living Rent Campaign in Glasgow, as we joined them for their AGM.

 

Take Back The City – Dublin, Ireland

(Previously called Summerhill Occupation) Take Back The City contacted Fe15 campaign during their first occupation.  We were very excited to show solidarity with them, and you can see their initial statement published on our blog.  Following a second occupation, we decided to visit these brave campaigners in August to hold a discussion, visit the occupation and make the links between London and Dublin, as many campaigners from these Cities have done in the past.

We spoke at a public street meeting in Dublin, Ireland:  Watch here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2115174032081958/?active_tab=discussion

Dublin’s rents are as high as in London.  This is a City of many empty homes and many homeless families.  The growing action in Ireland is an illustration of organised resistance to this;  people are  fighting back!

Take Back The City has evolved from the work between many different political groups, campaigns and individuals.  They are demonstrating the strength of fast paced direct action, but they have also shown us how brutally the state can try and squash political action which is making a difference;  campaigners were hospitalised during violent evictions last month.

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Garda (Irish Police) violently evict Campaigners

This state intimidation has not thrown off this campaign, and they are mobilising large numbers across Ireland to fight for housing.  We will continue links with these comrades. Follow their action and like their page here: https://www.facebook.com/TakeBackTheCityDublin/

 

Living Rent Campaign – Glasgow

Focusing on organising renters in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, this new tenants union  held their first AGM last weekend and launched a new campaign ‘Not a Penny More’ .

 

Living Rent along with other groups and individuals organised against the eviction of 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow in July, and they have been growing ever since.  Fe15 were invited to be on the panel of their opening session ‘Housing Struggles, Women in the lead’.  Speaking alongside two women from Living Rent, we presented our 10 lessons from 5 years of campaigning to a packed audience in South West Glasgow in the radical  neighborhood of Govan, which gave birth to the revolutionary 1915 rent strike and Mrs. Barbour’s Army of women;  leading all the way!

https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/

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(Mary Barbour’s Army memorial statue, Govan)

Rates of homelessness  are substantially higher in Glasgow than in other areas of Scotland.

GLek                                                                  Number of children living in temporary accommodation (Shelter Scotland 2017/2018)

Excerpt from Living Rent AGM opening statement:

…. our union is not, and should not, be interested in co-opting the power of the institutions that have created the housing crisis. Instead, our interest lies in building our own institutional power – one that is equipped to defend itself, run by tenants, for tenants.’

We endorse these principles and are excited to see a growing housing movement in Glasgow built on this solid foundation.

 

Read the full Living Rent AGM opening and closing statements here:

https://www.livingrent.org/opening_and_closing_speeches_from_our_glasgow_agm

 

London to Glasgow,

Dublin to London, 

One Struggle, One Fight!

 

 

 

‘Decanted’ from the Carpenters Estate in Newham – a former resident speaks out

Below are the words of a former resident of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. After decades in her home, she was forced out by the council in the run up to the Olympics. The Labour Council, led by Robin Wales, was champion of gentrification and social cleansing. It is an outrage, that the homes that people were forced to leave have remained empty ever since. The writer below can still look up at the windows of her beloved home in one of three deserted tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate. Shame on Newham. An apology is long overdue, and reparations are still awaited. The pressure is on the new Mayor and her council to immediately refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate.

The decant out of Dennison Point – Carpenters Estate.

I lived at Dennison for many many years, the decant was a sad day for me. Residents were told by the council that after refurbishment of Dennison Point, those who wished to return would be able to do so. I was moved out in one day, there was no time given to think about leaving. I had no cooking appliance for a few weeks because the new location did not have gas. So I phoned someone who told me that there was money allocated for cooking appliances. One would think that these necessities would have been sorted out before I moved in to the flat.

It is plain to see that Dennison Point has no defect and therefore should not be demolished.

I lost my friends.

Many of the committee spoke out and the council did not expect the news to be in the open.

I am standing with Focus E15 campaign, who are passionate about the right for social housing. They are giving a voice to the people who are being pushed out of council homes and out of the area where they have lived with their friends and relatives.

 

 

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10 things to learn from Focus E15 campaign

This autumn Focus E15 marks 5 years of active campaigning.  Campaigners have been out on the streets in Newham every week highlighting social cleansing, the issue of ‘intentional’ homelessness, boarded up council homes on Carpenters estate, the effect of living in temporary accommodation on families and the mental health distress caused by living in insecure housing as well as local council corruption. The campaign insists on everyone’s right to a decent, long term secure home.

Here are ten points that Focus E15 Campaign has found important over the last 5 years:

  1. Take direct action. In 2014 Focus E15 Campaign  led a vibrant political occupation on Carpenters Estate where the council has boarded up perfectly decent council homes. Messages of solidarity came flooding in across the country. Direct action can be empowering and it can highlight important issues to the wider community. Direct action also comes in many forms such as protesting at council meetings, holding a space on the streets, taking a march from the pavement to the road and chanting outside the housing/council offices.
  2. Together we are stronger. The campaign encourages people to take up the fight for housing. Effort is made to include those most affected and give them a voice. The campaign is careful not to mislead people by making false promises – as we are not a provider of housing – we are not the council! We tell people that ‘We can choose to fight together and you may win, – if you do nothing, you will probably lose’. We also ensure anyone who wants to join the fight for housing can get involved in the campaign as every willing person is needed in the struggle that lies ahead. Solidarity is vital.
  3. Speak truth to power: Focus E15 Campaign will work alongside any individual, group or political party willing to take up the fight for housing in a meaningful way, but the campaign is not linked to any current electoral party. Retaining our independence allows the campaign to highlight political corruption and take direct action in a Labour-controlled borough like Newham which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in England. The fact is that Labour councils are responsible for the majority of London’s estate demolition schemes and we must speak out.
  4. One struggle! One fight! We learn from other struggles, whether at home or abroad, and make links with housing struggles across the world. We fly the flag for Palestine and raise the issue of house demolition in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. We have met with housing campaigners in their communities, and likewise, they have met with us in Stratford to hear first-hand about the ‘Olympic legacy’ and what it means for housing in East London. From Scotland and Ireland to Italy, Hungary, Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil, we have made links with all those fighting for housing, to learn tactics and discuss politics.
  5. Use art as a political tool. There have been several plays, short films and art made about or inspired by Focus E15 Campaign and all the housing struggles in London. The arts are an important way to reach more people. There is always art in the form of banners with political messages and beautiful designs. However, beware that most of the arts and mainstream media is dominated by the same establishment who are selling off our council housing and who will act to water down or silence the artists who dare to speak out.
  6. Be a housing expert – or know one! It is important to understand the system. As Focus E15 Campaign has come against obstacles, we ask questions that make us analyse the system we live under, such as why are council estates being demolished, why are there more empty homes than homeless people, why are the poor demonised and why do we see racism in the housing system?…Can capitalism be reformed? Does it need to be replaced? Have a look at the work of  Revolutionary Communist Group who regularly publish articles on housing issues. Also look at the work of Architects for Social Housing to learn more.
  7. Keep your spirits up. We are on the streets every week, building solidarity, welcoming people, taking collective action and helping to encourage and empower each other. We make sure there is time for fun as well as political debate. We always have music and regular dancing on the street stall. There is face painting and opportunities to join in with banner making too.
  8. Network and build with other groups. Over the last five years Focus E15 Campaign has welcomed and made mutual links with many individuals and campaigns  by being out on the streets weekly and having a monthly campaign meeting. At these meetings there is time for discussion and debate and to learn from invited speakers. The campaign has an open democratic organising structure. On our stall we have a table where everyone can bring progressive literature to share, and an open mic which everyone is encouraged to use.
  9. Learn from history. The battles we face today are similar to the battles that people have faced in the fight for housing in the past. We look to Sylvia Pankhurst who was a communist suffragette fighting for working-class housing in east London (where the campaign is based) one hundred years ago, Mrs Barbour’s army in Glasgow who led rent strikes in 1915 and many more!
  10. Room for everyone but no room for racism! The street stall is an open place for political engagement. We are clear that the housing crisis is not caused by immigration. Focus E15 will challenge racist narratives that are popularised by right wing forces. We interact with the community on a weekly basis, use our sound system to oppose racist views and display banners with clear anti-racist messages.
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SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
NO SUCH THING AS INTENTIONAL HOMELESSNESS!
SAVE THE CARPENTERS ESTATE – 100% COUNCIL HOUSING!

Newham family do not know where they will sleep tomorrow night

On Saturday at the Focus E15 street stall, we were approached by a family who have lived in Newham for 18 years. We have just found out that they are going to be evicted tomorrow.

The Father is disabled and they have a 12 year old girl, 5 year old boy and 2 year old boy. This family have lived in the Manor park area for the last 18 years. The father has to have a monthly medical appointment due to his disability, the children are in local nursery and schools and the whole family have made many vital local connections with people. Connections which nurture and strengthen them all.

When this family refused an offer of housing because it was in Tilbury in Essex, outside of London, away from all their connections, the council told the family that they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ for refusing an offer.

Today a private agency came to change the locks on their front door and boot them out. There was no ‘notice to quit’ letter. The police were also called and then the family were randomly given one more night in their home, and told to go to social services tomorrow morning at 9am. All this is in the middle of the family awaiting a review decision by Newham housing department (or so they have been led to believe). They don’t know what will happen tomorrow. They are scared and worried, with no idea of where they will be living tomorrow night. This is the horror of the housing crisis, the misery and the utter stress for this family so hard to bear.

Shelter is necessary for survival as is the right to a decent family life. Focus E15 campaign are urging Newham social services to keep this family near to their support networks in Newham and not to send them out of London. We must also stress that a council like Newham, which has just been described as being a ‘radical council’ at the Labour Party Conference today, should put its so called ‘radicalism’ into immediate action and open up all the empty properties in the borough by hook or by crook as 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless. We demand action on housing!

UPDATE- Newham discharged their housing duty and social services said go and live in Bradford! Meanwhile Labour party dignitaries swan around at #Lab18 The family can not start again in Bradford. This threat of removal of human beings from their homes in Newham is deeply disturbing.

Newham resident bullied and threatened with ‘intentional homelessness’.

Focus E15 campaign has been working with residents from a hostel called Brimstone House in Stratford. People are living in this hostel with no end in sight as this ‘temporary’ accommodation stretches on for years. The residents are angry about their living conditions and are getting organised together as they want to move out, but they insist on their right to be housed in East London, near to their jobs, schools, families and support networks.

The following resident’s story highlights how being threatened with being moved out of London has an effect on mental health.

Focus E15 campaign caught up with this resident (who wishes to remain anonymous) at the Focus E15 street stall last Saturday.

A resident from Brimstone House’s story

This is a mother with a 5 year old child. She has been living in Brimstone house for 12 months and was initially told it was emergency accommodation for a short time only. However the council have subsequently told her that the accommodation is suitable as long term -temporary accommodation.She feels as if she was duped.

This resident  has depression and suffers from panic attacks. Due to this fragility her GP recommended that she is housed near her support networks in Newham especially considering she has a college place in Newham and her daughter has just started school. In other words her whole life is in East London.

She explains that she would be happy to be moved anywhere in East London, but that she does not want to be sent out of London.  If that were to happen she would loose contact with her friends and family who would not be able to afford to see her on a regular basis. She also does not want to loose her college place. If she was forced out of London she would be isolated and alone, with noone to help her look after her daughter if  she got sick.

However, to her complete horror the council, ignoring medical advice, offered her a place outside of London in Colchester in Essex. Her Doctor told her not to go and see the property due to her anxiety about train travel. This mother described a process and culture of being bullied to view this property out of London. She was told by council staff in the housing office that if she did not go to Colchester to view the property she would be evicted from Brimstone house and would be making herself ‘intentionally homeless’. She was also told that the council might only house her daughter and not her (this is someone in the housing department using the threat of social services to scare her). At this point her stress levels rocketed.

She got on a train to view the property in Colchester. Whilst trying to find the place that the council had forced her to view, she had a panic attack and ended up in hospital. A serious and disturbing consequences of the council ignoring known medical advice and it shows the stress that this young mother is under.

It seems as if the housing department are refusing to learn from this as she has subsequently been given another offer of a property outside of London in Tilbury. She has told Focus E15 campaigners that her mental health has deteriorated and is appealing this latest offer.

Focus E15 campaign is against the forced eviction of people from their communities and says no to social cleansing! We are demanding that Brimstone house residents are housed in their communities, close to the support networks, their jobs, their children’s schools and their medical provision. Brimstone house residents are human beings!

Join  the Focus E15 street stall this Saturday outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm.

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Newham families are being sent to live in Bradford.

Newham housing department decided that a disabled mother of two made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ after she missed a housing appointment due to emergency hospitalisation – now the council and social services are trying to move this brave family out of London all the way to Bradford in the North of England!

Focus E15 campaign was approached by this family at our street stall in Stratford and is featuring her story on our blog post below – as one of the many examples of enforced social cleansing that we hear about. Please read on to understand the battle people are facing to be housed adequately in their communities.

A resident tells her story to Focus E15 campaign

I am a disabled mother with two children, who has been living in temporary accommodation since 2008. In 2015 my family was moved into a room in a hostel by the Homelessness Unit. Here we had to share a bathroom with other tenants, rendering my equipment necessary to assist me with my disabilities useless. The council did not take into consideration my disabilities when placing me here, and it’s been extremely hard trying to cope without the use of my equipment.

After repeatedly informing the council of my condition there was a lack of response  so I sought legal advice to assist me in finding somewhere more suitable for my family and my disability. Subsequently we were moved to a two-bedroom home in Newham.

After living in temporary two bedroom accommodation for three years, the council offered us accommodation out of London in Basildon, with a date to view the property. On the morning of the viewing I had a severe panic-attack and was hospitalised in Newham General Hospital, thus missing the appointment to view the property. My solicitor informed Newham Council that I would be unable to attend the viewing due to this hospitalisation. The council did not reschedule the viewing or even enquire about my health, instead they stopped paying my rent and said I made myself intentionally homeless!

In fact, I had no knowledge that the council stopped my rent until I received a knock on my door with an eviction letter from my private landlord. Newham Council had decided to withdraw me from their duty of care sighting I “refused” the property offered. The council came to this decision without taking into consideration my medical condition or the medical evidence with my GP or Newham General Hospital.

I sought legal action to challenge this accusation of intentional homelessness, but the court decided to vote in favour of the council. I feel this is very unjust as no evidence has been provided by the council  to show I have refused the property in Basildon.

Furthermore, in June 2017, prior to the eviction notice, the ceiling fell on top of me while I was asleep in bed – I was rushed into hospital by emergency services and have been left with serve long term injuries. I have informed the council and MP Stephen Timms however they have simply brushed this incident aside despite the injuries I sustained – we even sent pictures of the incident and injuries sustained to the council however no action was taken.

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Pictures showing the fallen in ceiling and subsequent rubble

Following Newham Council withdrawing their duty of care to find suitable accommodation for my children and I, social services have stepped in to put us in a temporary two bedroom flat at the top of 4 flights of stairs, with no lift, despite my severe mobility problems.

To my horror social services are now saying they have no other choice but to send me and my family to Bradford –this is over 230 miles away,  a place where I do not know anyone. All my support networks would disappear and my children would have to start life all over again. This would make us extremely isolated. This treatment by the council is very stressful and is causing serious effect on our health. I am currently undergoing therapy to try and help with this.

The process and the lack of evidence-based decision making by the council is affecting our basic human rights to have a secure home. We have not had a fair hearing with all evidence presented. Instead our position has been ignored and a decision has been made by the council to unilaterally withdraw their duty of care to my family. My family saw Sara’s story in the Newham Recorder and reached out to Focus E15 campaign.

Keep people in their communities near their support networks! No more social cleansing! Join us on the streets this Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford and organise with those facing eviction and social cleansing.

Residents ask how much longer will we be left at Brimstone House?

Five years after the original Focus E15 mothers got their eviction notice from Focus E15 hostel, residents from the same building, now renamed Brimstone House, are getting organised and tell Newham council ‘it’s like living in a prison’.

Focus E15 campaign has been working with residents of Brimstone House for the past couple of months to fight for decent secure housing for all.

Maximum pressure on Newham’s new administration as residents ask ‘Why not open up Carpenters Estate?’

Brimstone House is the building where Focus E15 campaign began. Five years later very little has changed, in fact things have seemed to spiral downhill. Brimstone House is now owned by Newham Council and is used as temporary and emergency accommodation but with no end in sight for the residents.

Brimstone House consists of 210 self-contained units with the majority of these homes housing 2+ people per unit. The accommodation is absolutely unacceptable for the residents with no space, damp, disrepair – with lots of residents complaining of no ventilation. The rooms are freezing in the winter and sweat boxes in the summer.

On Wednesday 15 August, five years on from the eviction notices served to the 29 Focus E15 mothers from the same building, we stood in solidarity with residents of Brimstone House and met with Cllr John Gray, members of Newham Council’s Housing Department and Brimstone House Property Management. Brimstone House residents voiced their shocking housing stories and demanded decent homes for all!

Cllr John Gray and his colleagues were shown around some of the units of accommodation in Brimstone House – they were shown first-hand the unacceptable conditions residents are living in.

Video of one resident and their accommodation in Brimstone House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBMyr5GxHqw

There were many issues reported such as mistreatment from staff both within the building and at the council offices. Stress, depression and isolation from living in tiny accommodation is widespread. Strict door regulations mean loved ones can’t visit residents or stay overnight. Even carers have been turned away from entering. Disability rights are being ignored. Children living here have no space to play, yet there is a child’s park across the road which remains locked. Tenants are living in fear with fire alarms going off frequently at all hours of the day and night, causing great anxiety levels in the wake of Grenfell. There is 24/7 security on each floor in case of fire but this offers no reassurance to residents as a security guard can’t stop a fast-spreading fire… This is one example of the illogical, expensive and inefficient Council/Governmental solutions to straightforward and fixable housing problems.

John Gray said that 27,000 people are on the housing waiting list in Newham. We know that from 2012-2017 over 3000 Newham residents have been housed out of the borough and ironically 2,500 residents from other London boroughs have been moved into Newham by other councils. We also know that there are hundreds and hundreds of empty homes in the borough. These need opening up immediately to house people. The council’s aim of 1,000 homes over the next four years is not enough.

The meeting felt empowering with strong and brave residents standing together, making connections, speaking to each other and fighting collectively, all for one another.

The outcome of this meeting is that there will be a follow up meeting in October with Cllr Gray where some answers will be given on the plans for Brimstone residents as well as plans for the Carpenters Estate – where hundreds of council homes lie empty.

 

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Residents were angered to hear this as some of these council homes have been empty for over 12 years and are just a 10 minutes walk away from Brimstone House. Residents expect answers about these empty homes. Residents asked Cllr Gray ‘Why can’t we be moved there?!’

Intentional Homelessness and Social Cleansing.

Some residents from Brimstone House have been offered accommodation far out of London away from support networks and families. When they tell the council the housing isn’t acceptable as it’s so far away, residents have been labelled intentionally homeless and offered no further help from the council.

Social cleansing is alive and well in Newham and affecting Brimstone House residents.

Hideously,some residents have been told if they reject an offer of accomodation deemed acceptable, they will be referred to Children and Young People Services – clear intimidation and bullying tactics from the council.

There are many wrongs in this building but the solidarity and power that comes from within these walls is unbelievable. Courageous, strong, powerful people who are willing to stand together and fight.

We must all stand with the residents of Brimstone House, we must hold Newham Council accountable and we must ensure decent housing for all. Victory to the Brimstone Residents!