The Focus E15 campaign was born in September 2013 when a group of young mothers were served eviction notices by East Thames Housing Association after Newham Council cut its funding to the Focus E15 hostel for young homeless people. When they approached the Council for help, the mothers were advised that, due to cuts to housing benefit and the lack of affordable housing in London, they would have accept private rented accommodation as far away as Manchester, Hastings and Birmingham if they wanted rehousing.
This attempt by Newham Council to displace the mothers from London, removing them and their children from their families and local support networks, is just one example of a city-wide process of social cleansing, with low income people being forced to the fringes of London and beyond by soaring rents, benefit cuts, and a shortage of social housing.
This prompted the mothers to get organised and demand social housing, not social cleansing!
In the year since its inception, the campaign has gone from strength to strength, with a weekly stall in Stratford, an occupation of Newham Council’s housing office, and a march of several hundred supporters to Newham Town Hall all contributing towards the mothers’ growing national profile. The campaign has been a thorn in the side of unsympathetic Mayor of Newham Robin Wales, whose aggressive behaviour was the subject of an internal investigation after a complaint was sent to the council about the way he treated Focus E15 campaigners at the Newham Mayor’s Show in July 2014.
On September 21st 2014, the Focus E15 campaign celebrated its first birthday with an occupation of a disused block of flats on the nearly empty Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. This action draws attention to the fact that people are being forced out of London due to a lack of affordable housing while thousands of perfectly good social housing units sit empty. The occupied flats were opened to the public and ran as a social centre for two weeks, with an evolving program of daily events, including workshops, meetings, and music and comedy gigs.
The campaign continues to meet weekly in Stratford. More actions are planned. In the words of Jasmin and Sam ‘This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis’.