Category Archives: families

Stranded in Southend: expectant mother told by Newham Council that she hasn’t been moved far enough away yet

‘If anything happens to me, it’s on Newham (council). I’ve told you my situation!’

A mother of two young children with a third on the way, shook the walls of Stratford Town Hall last Monday evening as she addressed the full Cabinet meeting of Newham Council and outlined her increasingly dangerous and unmanageable housing situation. She is due to give birth in little over a month.

Newham council left this expectant mother and her children stranded and isolated when they forced the family to move from temporary accommodation in Newham in Brimstone House to Southend on Sea by threatening her with ‘intentional homelessness’ if she did not accept an offer of accommodation out of London. She states:

‘’I cannot describe this as a choice, as a mother cannot choose to make their children ‘intentionally homeless’. So I was forced to accept this offer and have been in Southend-on-Sea since July 2018.”

She further explains that:

“The flat I am in is on the second floor and the building has no lift. I have to climb 30 stairs with my two young children, as well as my shopping and with my double buggy, in an advanced stage of pregnancy. I regularly injure myself because of this, and I fear that something worse could happen. I feel scared to leave my children in my flat (when I leave to go get my shopping & buggy from downstairs) as they are very young.  This will become even more difficult after the birth of my 3rd child.

I have absolutely no support networks in Southend-on-Sea, and when I go into labour I worry that I have nobody who can stay at home with my young children. All my support networks are in Newham where I lived for 6 years.’’

After trying to contact Newham Council and getting little response, she reached out to Focus E15 Campaign as an ex-resident of Brimstone House and joined forces with current Brimstone House residents who have just submitted a legal complaint to Newham Council about the awful living conditions in the hostel.

However, a worrying development is that following her speech at the cabinet meeting, she was contacted by a housing officer in Newham the next day, and told that ‘she would have to be moved even further than Southend to find affordable housing’. This is threatening and abhorrent.

We call on the Mayor and the Council to immediately move this mother and her children back to Newham. She is asking for her right to be housed in her community for the long term benefit of her children.  A pregnant mother should not be left to give birth alone or be cast out.  She needs to be back in her community so that she can get the support she needs at this vulnerable time in her life just before she goes into labour. The issues of class, race and gender are present in this case and Newham have left her in a very precarious situation far away from all those she knows and trusts.

Focus E15 Campaign says:

Newham council bring this mother and her children back home to Newham!

Stop making women and children isolated, depressed and afraid.

Keep our communities together!

Social housing, not social cleansing!

Join us on the street stall this Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford, London E15.

Legal complaint served -this could go to the high court say Public Interest Law Centre

Brimstone house residents in Newham are getting organised. They  have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed  by the Public Interest Law centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news.

 Join us to discuss all the latest development with the complaint, now issued to every councillor in Newham at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 August from 2.30pm-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN.

Newham residents’ complaint to Mayor at full council meeting

The deputation to the Council of Newham…

Residents of Brimstone House formed a powerful woman led deputation to the Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and the full Labour council meeting at Stratford Town Hall on Monday 15 July. The deputation spoke about their submission of a legal complaint, compiled with the Public Interest Law Centre supported by Focus E15 campaign, regarding the appalling conditions of the temporary and emergency accommodation in the Newham Council-owned building in Victoria Street, Brimstone House.

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The deputation by Brimstone House residents was organised after a year of meetings with Newham Council which has seen little change for the majority of the residents.

One Focus E15 campaigner Hannah described what happened during the deputation: “the powerful and eloquent words of mothers, pregnant women and teenagers sent shivers down the spine of even the most hardened. This is no way to treat people, lives of adults and children are being destroyed physically and mentally by the stress of living in temporary accommodation”.  One resident from Brimstone House Marsha explained “we live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you know many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families’. Another resident, Egwolo said ‘The homes standing empty on the Carpenters Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished.’ 

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Supporters of the London Black Women’s Project, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaigners walk out of the council chamber and chant together ‘deeds not words!’

Over fifty women supporting the London Black Women’s Project protesting at the vital cuts in services to women in the borough were also present at the council meeting. Everyone stood united, supporting one another as the issues of council cuts to services and housing are linked. The frustration at the lack of action ended with a walk out from the council chamber and chants of “Deeds Not Words” rang out throughout the building. A lively demonstration took place outside in the streets afterwards, the traffic was briefly stopped with banners, placards and more chanting.

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Legal Complaint is served
The compliant from Brimstone House residents has been sent to every member of Newham Council. It calls for immediate action to remedy unsuitable housing conditions and to stop the seemingly limitless time that people languish in inappropriate accommodation, many with young children. Residents of Brimstone House are told they will stay for 3-6 months, however the average length of stay is 1.5 years.

The legal complaint is comprised of in-depth witness statements from 19 residents, an architectural report on the suitability of the building and recommendations from residents and Focus E15 Housing Campaign on progressive housing policies in the borough. This complaint also makes public findings from recent Freedom of Information Request to Newham Council on key housing facts such as the average waiting time to access a 4 bedroom property being 9 years and 11 months and that only 164 social houses had been built in the two years preceding the Freedom of Information Request (April 2018).

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Banner by Andrew Cooper on the left details words by Brimstone House residents such as feeling scared social services will remove children from families if they have long term housing difficulties.

The legal complaint also notes the fact that the majority of the complainants living in temporary accommodation are from BAME backgrounds and demands equality for all. The complaint calls on the Newham Council to open up the 400+ boarded up homes on Carpenters Estate and to consider setting a protest budget in order to highlight the housing emergency that is still unfolding. Residents will be meeting with the Mayor to discuss their concerns in the next few weeks.

Quotes from the complaint, residents speak out:

“Living in Brimstone Hostel feels like a prison because we cannot go out or leave for too long, even for holidays. I do not feel free as the office monitors when we enter or leave Brimstone House.’’

“There is not enough space for all of us, not even for a cot for my three-week old daughter. Instead I have to fold a travel cot every night….my health visitor says it is not appropriate.”

“There is not enough room in the flat to manoeuvre my son’s wheelchair.’’

“The hygiene situation in Brimstone House is really bad… I am very concerned about my daughter’s health of living there. The flat is really run down, shabby and infested with mice.”

For more information, interviews or access to the legal complaint document, please contact: focuse15london@gmail.com

Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from
12-2pm.
Together we are stronger!

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Newham Council offers single mother slum housing or the street

Marsha, a brave single mother who has been living in temporary accommodation in Brimstone House for over a year with her 6 year old daughter, was yesterday contacted by Housing Options and told that she would be offered housing in Woolwich.  She was informed in a threatening manner that this would be the last time she would be offered housing, and that she had to view and accept the property today.

Marsha managed to get some pictures when viewing the property.  These speak for themselves.

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The Agent who was showing the property agreed he would never house his family in this flat.

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This is private accommodation offered by Newham Council.  What a disgrace from a Council that prides itself on tackling slum private landlords.

 

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Marsha has not only suffered Council threats in relation to her housing, but has been verbally threatened by social services in relation to her child being rehoused without her.

Journalist Kate Belgrave has documented Marsha’s full story in more detail. Please read about this here:

Do Councils actually try to drive homeless mothers to breakdown so they can remove their kids?

https://www.katebelgrave.com/2019/02/do-councils-actually-try-to-drive-homeless-mothers-to-breakdown-so-they-can-remove-their-kids/

Focus E15 stands as one with Marsha and her daughter.  We demand that Newham Council retracts this housing offer and rehouses Marsha in suitable, clean, long term, council accommodation in Newham .

We demand an end to vulnerable families being threatened and bullied into accepting accommodation that no Councillor would spend the night in.

We demand people are housed with dignity in one of the richest Countries in the world!

Ongoing housing injustice in Newham – house Rachel NOW!

Three years ago, a homeless mother and her twin children, were placed by Newham Council in a privately rented house in East Ham. In August 2018, the owner sold the house and Racheal and her twins were told they would have to move out. Anxiously, they sought advice from East Ham housing office. What were they to do now?

Advice was not forthcoming despite the fact that the twins attend a local school in Stratford and Racheal is working in Newham. Racheal says has heard about people being shipped out of the borough for rehousing. She is scared that this will happen to her. The stress of losing everything, her home, her job, the children’s schools and all her friends and connections has been making her ill.

In September last year Racheal received the official notice to quit and she has subsequently been sent a court eviction notice for Monday 18 February 2019.

Racheal went with this information to Bridge House homelessness unit to seek advice, but without an appointment they wouldn’t even let her in the building to ask any questions to assess her options. She has no case worker. The only thing that Rachel was told is that she needs to pack up her stuff, put it all into storage (at her own expense) and on Monday 18 February she should present herself to Bridge House homelessness unit, as she and her children will indeed be homeless.

Leaving housing decision like this to the very last minute causes a huge amount of stress. It was the council that housed this family in the private rented sector and if this home is no longer available, it would seem logical that the council must rehouse this family as soon as possible and before 18 February. But, under the Localism Act, the council discharges its duty when placing people in the private rented sector. This means they won’t help when such a placement goes wrong. A new homelessness application must be submitted.

However under the Homelessness Prevention Act the council should intervene. It is the humane thing to do! We must also stress that every local option for housing must be investigated before the family face social cleansing and potential destitution outside of London.

Racheal has found support for her case and she has not given up!She has an appointment at Bridge house for Friday 15 February.

We demand that Newham Council, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and cabinet member for housing John Gray, act swiftly to remedy this situation and house Racheal and her children in Newham with their support networks, family and community, school and job.

Picture from a banner by Andrew Cooper

Stuck in limbo at Brimstone House, Newham.

A young mother has been living at Brimstone House Hostel in Newham for over a year. We wrote about her predicament of being labelled with ‘intentional homelessness’ in September. 3 months on she is finding it difficult to manage this uncertainty and insecurity. These are her words:

I am a single mother living in a bedsit for the last 15 months. I have been on a emotional roller-coaster back and forth with the council with still no solution in sight. When will all the emotional stress be over? Despite showing documented evidence of my connection with the local area, the Council does not take this into account and have made me two out-of-borough offers of accommodation which I have had to refuse due to medical reasons and the need for my local connections and support.

I then realised that the council’s ‘solution’ to this was to discharge their duty of care to me, a decision which would put me and my daughter out on the streets. I was told I had the right to a suitability review, which was kinda pointless because the council had already made the decision to end their duty of care even before the suitability request was reviewed.

After a week’s consideration, the review officer sent an email saying the review was unsuccessful (no surprises there). I feel that the review officer did not follow appropriate inquiries into my reasons regarding why I needed to stay living in Newham. He then made the decision that I had to leave the property at a particular date (that didn’t exist!) so after a few emails back and forth to clarify the actually day and date I had to leave, I was finally given a date of Wednesday 28th of November…

It was so heartbreaking to have to tell my daughter we are moving but not knowing where we are going – it makes me feel so bad as a mother the fact that I can’t find a decent, suitable and affordable home for my child to live an ordinary life like any normal family …three days prior to my eviction date the manager for the building called to say my eviction is on hold and she will be in touch over the next few weeks …but what does this really mean? I’m stuck in a limbo! At the moment I’m just not sure about what is going on with my case. I am really confused as to what this all means and I am not sure if I still have to leave, I just don’t know.

This mother attends college in Newham and has her child enrolled in a local Newham school. They need to be housed in their community. Say no to social cleansing!

Come and discuss how to take this case forward at our next public meeting on Saturday 8 December at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN 2.30pm.

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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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!

A day in the life of Focus E15 housing campaign 

Focus E15 campaign split forces on the morning of Saturday 14 July. Our street stall was set up on Stratford Broadway by some, whilst others went to meet Newham’s new Mayor, Roksana Fiaz, at her surgery in East Ham library. Our determined group comprised of campaigners and residents from the hostel Brimstone House in Stratford, residents from the tower block Ferrier Point in Canning Town as well as local families facing eviction, all coming together to raise concerns.

We bartered a collective meeting with Roksana Fiaz and she listened to everyone’s concerns in turn which meant the meeting lasted over 1 hour. This was quite a difference from the Robin Wales experience we had been use to, where young mothers were treated with utter contempt and disdain.

Roksana Fiaz and the councillor Susan Masters who was also present were both updated about the dehumanising and prison-like security at Brimstone House, the ongoing battle against intentional homelessness, the fight against poor housing conditions and the horror of bailiffs, the inadequate housing provision for people with disabilities and children, and the way in which people are treated in the council housing offices. The message was clear, that people want permanent and appropriate housing in their communities. Roksana Fiaz instructed her staff about the issues that need following up urgently and said that her officers and the councillors need to meet with residents to hear these problems first hand. Focus E15 campaigners also raised the issue of the empty homes on Carpenters estate and she said that in the Autumn she will meet with Carpenters residents and others with updates and plans.

Focus E15 campaign will be following up all these pledges and promises.
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Meanwhile, at our stall we were joined by a very worried resident of Ebury Bridge Estate in Pimlico as Westminster Council has just voted to demolish their estate. We discussed our experience of campaigning and suggested the next steps and tactics – watch this space for an upcoming meeting in Pimlico which everyone is welcome to support!

As we ate some lunch after the street stall and the meeting, we were found by a group of housing activists from Denmark who had come to make links with Focus E15 campaign. They are part of an important new housing campaign in Copenhagen, fighting against the ‘Ghetto List’ – part of a shocking new Danish policy whereby areas are becoming known as ghettos, rights are being denied to those living in those areas – the people who live there are predominately non-western European and working class. Under the new law, children will be forced to attend day-care centres to learn ‘Danish values’, residents can receive lower welfare benefits than elsewhere, and punishments for crimes committed in the area could potentially be given double the amount of a normal sentence. Our new Danish friends said that they would be writing a blog for our website addressing their struggle, but in the meantime, see an article about this issue here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/isolation-not-integration-minorities-targeted-danish-ghetto-policy-denmark-1826345568
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We finished our Saturday marching for Grenfell – the most shocking symbol of all the struggles in the housing crisis. We will stand with the Grenfell community until there is justice.
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Please join our housing campaign on the streets next Saturday – and remember there is a place for everyone!