Monthly Archives: September 2018

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.
    bannerclapton2

SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
NO SUCH THING AS INTENTIONAL HOMELESSNESS!
SAVE THE CARPENTERS ESTATE – 100% COUNCIL HOUSING!

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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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