Artist view of tiny homes

Victoria Street – no place for children

In May 2022, Labour Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, under pressure from Focus E15 campaign, was forced to say that all families with children will be moved out of Brimstone House, Victoria Street by May 2023. 

Victoria Street is a building designed for single young people and now those same rooms/flats are being used by Newham Labour council to house families with children in emergency and temporary accommodation.

Those living in Victoria Street with children are struggling. Those families who have been moved out are also experiencing the appalling conditions of the private rented sector, the poorly-maintained council sector and the ongoing issues of temporary accommodation with insecurity and anxiety about the future and long term stability, job, support networks, schooling. 

Currently more than a quarter of all renters in Britain, overwhelmingly the poorest families, live in substandard, badly insulated homes, vulnerable to cold damp and mould. With the rising fuel costs and the impossibility of adequately heating homes, the impact on children’s heath and development will be devastating. 

Below a resident speaks about what it means to live in a cramped overcrowded space with a child in Brimstone House, Victoria Street. Readers will see the aerial drawing of the space that this mother and her nine year old child live in, forced to share a bed, and with no place to do homework and no space to play, while the tiny table they eat off, is also the mother’s workspace as she works from home. These small rooms are called one-bedroom flats, meaning families don’t count as being overcrowded and get nowhere on the bidding system. 

Tiny cramped room in Victoria Street hostel. Photos by Edward Saunders-Forde
Andrew Cooper’s drawing depict the cramped conditions at the hostel in Victoria Street.
Scale drawing of a space (called a one-bedroom flat) where mother (height 1.65m) and nine year old daughter (height 1.4m) live. They have to share the double bed. 

Interview with the resident with Focus E15 campaign follows:

What is it like living in such a cramped place?

There is no space in the box bedroom to put in a chest of drawers for our clothes, so it is in the kitchen and then they call it a lounge/living area and tell me legally I have two rooms to sleep in. That is what they said when I challenged the fact that I have to share a double bed with my daughter. What a ridiculous story this is. My kitchen is a corridor. No way is this a one-bedroom flat. 

There is no storage, how do you manage with your belongings?

One chest of drawers, one tiny wardrobe, not enough for two people. That is only enough if you are on holiday for a few days with summer clothes. We are not allowed to bring in any of our own furniture, not that it would fit anyway, so we have my stuff and my daughter’s stuff – including clothes, towels, toiletries, shoes, school books, school work, pencil and pens, toys, everything – in boxes. All our household is in boxes, all around the place, making it even more difficult to walk around the tiny space. 

Describe the psychological effect of living in such a cramped place in Victoria Street.

I feel so anxious every time I have to ask my daughter to move away from the kitchen table so that I can pass and reach some of my clothes. She will move to the room full of boxes and then I need to reach something else and have to ask her to move again. She is upset, thinks she is always in the way, as if her presence is a problem for me. It is so hard to explain and she is tired of living like this. I feel so down and depressed. I don’t know how long I can cope without stability and without space for living. 

Can you say something about the past and the future?

I feel like the council is not telling me the whole truth and hiding important information and in general it feels like they work against me rather than with me. Being homeless is stressful and scary and with so many other issues such as being a single parent, financial insecurity, health issues, relationship difficulties. No one asks to be homeless, but then when it happens you feel you are a burden. I feel powerless. We have had to move around for years. This all seems ignored by the council. Priority on the bidding system is random. They are playing with our lives. 

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