Over the last four years Focus E15 campaign has constantly raised the issue of intentional homelessness and highlighted the vicious policies of Newham Labour Council under Robin Wales, the previous Mayor, who presided over policies whereby if a homeless family refused to be sent out of London and refused what they called a suitable offer, then they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and the council could discharge their duty to house them.
This frightening process is what happened to Sara and her two young children, one in school in Newham and one preschool age. Sara has been working with Focus E15 campaign since December 2017 and has been determined to get housing justice. Sara has family, friends and support networks in Newham and has employment in Newham as well. Read the latest on this story by journalist Kate Belgrave who rightly asks, ‘when will Labour Councils get stuck in’?
Since December 2017, there have been phone calls to Newham council about Sara’s case, letters, protests, and visits to the housing office as well as challenges to the impending eviction that Sara and her children face and attempts at an appeal on the council’s decision. Now there is a court case in Central London on Thursday 26 July to see if Sara even has the right to appeal.
Meanwhile since the beginning of May, Newham has a new Labour mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and a relatively new Labour council. We ask the new mayor to support Sara and her children to be housed in Newham, for their long term health and well being.
We urge all supporters of Focus E15 campaign and campaigners for housing justice to join us at court to support Sara on Thursday 26 July. 10am at The County Court, Central London, R.C.J More Building, Royal Court, Strand, London WC2A 2LL
Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis
People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.
The meeting was proposed after hearing issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.
This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:
The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.
While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London, 100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.
The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.
From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at .
The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’
A Newham resident speaks out.
A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:
I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.
I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.
My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.
I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.
I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.
Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness.
The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.
I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.
We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents.
Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved!
No time for your Housing issues, we have an election on…
This is what Labour MP for East Ham Stephen Timms said to Chantelle, when she visited him last week as a last resort in her struggle for decent long-term accommodation with her young son in Newham.
Three years ago, Chantelle and her two month old son, were placed by Newham Council, under the Bond Scheme, in private-rented accommodation. The flat has mice and cockroaches, damp, no loft insulation and intermittent problems with the boiler leaving Chantelle and her son with periods of no hot water or heating. Chantelle’s son is in a local nursery and has a place in the school for September 2017.
Out of the blue, in January 2017, Chantelle received a Section 21 Notice of Possession (Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, is the legal eviction notice a landlord can give to a tenant to regain possession of a property at the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy). Frightened by the prospect of homelessness with her young son, Chantelle sought advice and Newham Council advised Chantelle to stay put, not to move out to stay with a family member as she would then be making herself intentionally homeless. She was advised to look for private accommodation in the two weeks that followed and when she was not successful, she was then advised by the housing office to go through with the eviction process and she was told she would not be liable for court fees.
However outrageously Chantelle has been ordered to pay court costs of £355 to the landlord for this eviction and bailiff’s have been summoned to evict her, creating more stress and anxiety for Chantelle and her son.
Chantelle’s case worker has said that once the bailiffs have come and Chantelle is on the streets she will be given emergency accommodation, but only out of London. The case worker said that unless a child is in their GCSE year, they are ‘expendable’ and will cope with being moved away from their family, friends and teachers.
Labour Mayor Robin Wales in his address to the Annual Council Meeting last month said that Newham ‘has real Labour values that create for each of us the means to realise our true potential’ and boasted that Newham has ‘amongst the best services in London’ and ‘doing more than other boroughs to get rid of rogue landlords’ and as housing reaches a crisis point, Newham is ‘showing the way for others to follow’.
The reality is that social cleansing continues, with people like Chantelle being forced out of borough and out of London, tearing them away from their family and support networks, their children’s schools and their jobs or job prospects. Meanwhile thousands of homes lie empty in the Newham, not least over 400 homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford.
Chantelle will be at STRATFORD MAGISTRATE COURT 389-397 High Street E15 4SB Tuesday 6 June at 2pm. She should not be financially penalised. Chantelle knows that her struggle is the struggle of thousands of people across London. Focus E15 campaign will be there to support her when she requests an extension to stay in her current property and for the court costs to be waived. The struggle goes on to ensure that Chantelle and her young son are not moved out of Newham.
Social housing! Not social cleansing!
Watch the videos, read the text below and support Focus E15 campaign in the renewed pressure and demands on Waltham Forest council to stop social cleansing to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. We are demanding an end to Abigail’s isolation.
In March 2014 Abigail approached Waltham Forest council to help find accommodation. Her previous landlord was about to evict her as she was pregnant and he didn’t want a baby in his property. Abigail was told by the council that they had found her emergency temporary accommodation, a one bedroom apartment, in Welwyn garden city.
When Abigail arrived at the new property, it was clear the accommodation was not suitable for her and her unborn daughter. It wasn’t a one bedroom apartment as she was told, but a very small studio flat with a kitchenette, living room and bedroom all in the same room. The room had problems with damp, mould, cockroaches and dangerous faulty appliances (Abigail and her children have spent the last two winters with no working heating). Heavily pregnant when moving in, and then with a new-born baby and a pushchair soon after, the room Abigail was given was on the 3rdstory, and the block of accommodation has no lifts.
Watch the video as Abigail explains more about her situation:
Welwyn Garden City, where Abigail was placed, is over 20 miles and an expensive train ride away from Abigail’s family, community and place of work in Walthamstow. Outrageously, this means Abigail has had to spend 80% of her wages on travel, whilst being separated from her support networks, and removed from the place she knows as home.
This year marks 3 years since Abigail’s placement in Welwyn Garden City- when she was initially moved she was told it would be a few month, maximum. She has been doing everything she can to move back home; speaking to councillors, housing officers, and continually bidding for suitable properties closer to her loved ones. But unfortunately, her attempts have been unsuccessful, and Waltham Forest Council are unwilling to help.
In September 2016, Abigail gave birth to her second beautiful daughter, who has recently been diagnosed as having Congenital Melanocytic Naevus (CMN), a type of birthmark. Unfortunately complications of CMN can include neurological problems in the brain or spinal cord and malignant melanoma. This means that the baby must attend regular check-ups with her doctor, and specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
With the recent diagnosing of Abigail’s second daughter’s condition, it has become even more urgent that she is brought back to London, back to her support networks, so her family and friends can support her and her daughters. Abigail will need help with childcare, family to attend appointments with her, and loved ones around to support her in stressful and scary times.
This family cannot get the support they need living miles away from their community, it is time they are brought back home. That is why Focus E15 campaign is supporting an online petition to demand Waltham Forest Council bring Abigail and her daughters back to London, and to provide this family with a safe and decent home. Please sign and share the petition across your networks:
Thank you. Together we are stronger!
Janice Graham has been out campaigning with Focus E15 campaign on the streets of East London every Saturday for 3 years. On International women’s day 2017 she takes time to explain why:
I am a mother of 4 children and I have 11 grandchildren. I have lived in Newham most of my life, bringing up my family single handed. I have just plodded along getting on with my life, not being interested in anything to do with politics: I always thought it was boring and couldn’t be bothered to listen to a load of old rubbish coming from politicians thinking they know everything. This changed when Newham Labour Council’s policies of social cleansing started to affect me and my family.
My daughter Jasmin was moved into Focus E15 Hostel in Stratford in East London, when she was 7 months pregnant. The hostel was home to 100s of young people under the age of 25, all from different backgrounds and many of these young people were quite vulnerable. The rooms were very small and damp, but at least I thought, my daughter has a roof over her head and hopefully she can move somewhere more suitable for bringing up a child soon. After all there were all those lovely brand new flats on the Olympic Village sitting empty.
How wrong could I be: in September 2013 Jasmin and all the other 29 mothers and mothers to be, received eviction notices and were told they would have to get out because the council’s funding stream to the mother and baby unit suddenly stopped. It was scary because the Council were moving people as far as Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester. I went with my daughter and tried desperately to find something in the private rented sector, but each time we met landlords it was clear that they were not interested in housing single mothers on benefits.
I thought, this cannot happen, I am not letting Newham Council separate my family. My daughter is not going to live hundreds of miles away from me – I would never see my grandchild. The insecurity was putting my daughter under so much stress. I started to worry about all the other mothers from the hostel and wondered how they were coping; they must do something together. I suggested to Jasmin that she should speak to the other mothers, knock on their doors and get some kind of petition going. And that is exactly what they did. A campaign was formed, supported by other organised groups like the RCG, Feminist Fightback and many talented individuals offering campaigning experience and solidarity to the mothers. I am very pleased to say that we stood up to Newham Council and made them listen and the mothers were all rehoused in London. A massive victory!
For more than 3 years now Focus E15 Campaign has been going strong. Every Saturday we meet people on our street stall on the Broadway in Stratford who are going through similar housing problems, causing people much misery and stress. Why should people have to move away from their area so property developers can build sky high apartments that often stay empty? The empty homes all over the country should be repopulated now. There are even empty council homes in Stratford on the Carpenters Estate where homeless people could be rehoused.
My message to anyone and everyone is you can fight back, get together in numbers. Make demands, say what you want and keep on pushing until you get what you want. I would never had dreamt in a million years that I would have been out on the street making a noise and fighting for what I now realise is our right. You can do that too. Stand up to the council bullies and fight back.
Congratulations to the ‘Balcony 4’ and Focus E15 campaigners who successfully dropped banners from a disused, sold off and boarded-up police station in East Ham on Sunday 10 July 2016, to highlight the current crisis in housing. This action took place during the Mayor’s Newham Show (will he call it the Robin Wales Show next year?!) – which is a two day council-sponsored event that takes place in a local park in East Ham. Focus E15 campaign was determined to let people know what is really happening in the Labour controlled borough of Newham where Mayor Robin Wales is still at the helm. As the Mayor’s show took place, this action unfolded.
The background story is that the campaign has protested during the mayor’s show over the last two years. In 2014, Robin Wales over-reacted to young mothers talking about rights to housing during the show and a complaint was lodged against him. He faced the Newham Standards Committee and was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct (watch from 1.45: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk). Then in 2015, the council ordered private security to stop campaigners handing out leaflets during the Mayor’s show and had campaigners forcibly removed from the park in a heavy handed manner. (http://youtu.be/SpbnD9RzuQ0).
During the Mayor’s show this year, one of Newham’s many empty buildings became a target. Three large banners were unfurled from the balconies of a boarded up police station as a crowd gathered down below. The banners read “Newham – hundreds of empty homes“; “Room for everyone, No room for Racism“; “Stop social cleansing, keep us in London“. Campaigners from the Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, The Green Party, Sisters Uncut, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and passers-by took to the mic to express their disgust at the amount of properties left empty by Newham council and demanded the reopening of the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Many drivers hooted in support and passers-by joined in the protest and gave out leaflets. One campaigner explained:
“…If they leave buildings empty like this police station – we will use them to make a political point. The housing crisis is driving people to despair and there should be no empty buildings whilst people are left to rot on our streets. We are also fed up of politicians blaming migrants for the housing shortage – it is just a dangerous lie -which is why one of our banners says – No Room for Racism…”
Whilst Robin Wales and his entourage were swanning around the park, the reality for thousands of people living in Newham is increased insecurity: rents are always rising, council homes are being sold off and more people are living in overcrowded, appalling temporary accommodation. 35% of Newham residents earn below the London Living Wage, yet the mayor has a salary of £80,000 and last year the same amount again was spent on his expenses.
Hundreds of messages of support for the temporary occupation of the police station’s balconies came flooding into the campaign. The Balcony 4 came down at end of the protest to applause and loud cheers from everyone on the ground.
Focus E15 campaign would like to say a big thank you to all those who supported this action, with your presence, your cameras and your voices, and to the speakers from East End Sisters Uncut, Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and Newham Green Party. Another successful action, working together and challenging Newham Labour Council!
The campaign would also like to send our solidarity and congratulations to East End Sisters Uncut for their current occupation of empty council homes in Hackney as they highlight the cuts to services for domestic violence and the closure of refuges. Please support their occupation over the coming days and weeks.
Focus E15 campaign’s next public meeting is on Saturday 2nd August 2016 at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN, to discuss ways forward for the campaign. Join us at 2.30pm
On Monday 27th June 2016, Boundary House residents went to Waltham Forest council’s housing office, Cedar House, to fight back against the appalling conditions they have been forced to live in.
Boundary House is a block of one-bedroom flats of ‘temporary accommodation’ in Welwyn Garden City which is outside London. From there it is a long and expensive commute back to Walthamstow where most of its current residents are from. The distance and cost means that residents are isolated from their family, friends and support networks, with one mother of two being forced to quit her job in London, as she could no longer afford the commute.
The conditions there are terrible, with mould, cockroaches, overcrowding and dangerous faulty appliances. One resident, pregnant and living with her young daughter, had to survive the winter with no heating. Still today, their heating has not been fixed.
On the third floor of Boundary house there is a young mother living with her now four month old baby, who was delivered by C-section. As there are no lifts in the block of flats, and the block is not safe or secure enough to leave the pushchair down stairs, every time this mother wants to go out she must carry her baby in the pushchair up and down three flights of stairs. The strain of this has meant that she has not been able to fully heal from the operation.
Boundary House was not built with families in mind. Nonetheless, Waltham Forest council have been sending their constituents to this accommodation and have done nothing to ensure the properties are fit for purpose. When Boundary House residents tried to raise these issues to Waltham Forest council, they have received little, if any, responses to their letters, phone calls and emails.
This is why on Monday 27th of June, Boundary House residents decided enough if enough. Supported by Focus E15, and others, we marched on the housing office, as a united community to demand to speak to someone who could act upon our demands. When we arrived, security tried to refuse us entrance into the office. But we did not stand for it and insisted to be let it. Once the security had conceded to our demands to enter, we were told the Director of housing would not be able meet us. We refused to accept this and told them we would not move until Boundary House residents were able to speak to someone in charge.
It did not take long for the council to concede, and we won a group meeting with the Director of Housing for Waltham Forest Council, whom some Boundary House residents have been trying to get in contact with for over two years. We were taken to a conference room, and every resident had the chance to tell their story, express their concerns, fears and frustrations, and to demand the Waltham Forest Council treat its residents with respect and dignity.
In the meeting, the Director of Housing agreed to listen to our demands, to investigate the appalling conditions of Boundary House, and to hold another meeting in the coming weeks to update Boundary House residents as to what actions they have taken improve from the current conditions. This is a small victory of Boundary House Residents.
The action has demonstrated that when we fight together, they cannot ignore us! We will continue to fight, to make sure that Waltham Forest council holds true to their words, and we will continue to demand that Waltham Forest council bring Boundary House residents back to London.
SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
Joins us on our street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway on Saturday from 12pm.
Newham’s housing is a health risk
Newham is the most overcrowded borough in London with conditions for many residents increasingly best described as slum housing. In Olympic legacy Labour Newham, in the fifth richest country in the world, every day people face evictions, social cleansing and literally being dumped on the streets. Below are just two examples of the consequences of what can happen when you remove social housing.
Jennifer is the mother of five children and a grandmother. On Wednesday 8 June she will be at Bridge House homelessness Unit in Stratford, east London in the borough of Newham. Jennifer is about to be made homeless for the second time in nine months. She has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years, shunted from pillar to post, and in this last home, didn’t even totally unpack when she moved in nine months ago because she didn’t think it would last. She is right, a housing association put her in private rented accommodation and now the landlord says no more, possession order has come, meeting at Bridge House and all the usual emotions of fear, insecurity, shame, powerlessness. What will Jennifer tell her son who is on the autistic spectrum and is just settling in yet another home, when they have to move again, what of her son doing GCSEs and anxious about his exams. These are the issues facing her again.
Focus E15 campaign is supporting Jennifer in her request for long term stable housing in Newham. Housing Justice for Jennifer!
On Saturday 4 June, Focus E15 campaign held its monthly public meeting. The theme was Housing is a Mental Health Issue. A speaker from Psychologists Against Austerity spoke of the direct and indirect effect of poor housing and overcrowding on our physical and mental health. At the end of the meeting we met Beverley, a resident of Focus E15 building, or Brimstone House as Newham Council would like it now to be known, who is facing eviction. She has physical and mental health needs. On Tuesday 7 June, Beverley was told to leave Brimstone House. When they first placed her in Brimstone House, Newham Council said it was interim accommodation while a decision was made on whether to provide her with housing. Her dog, vital to help her maintain her health, was not allowed in the room and Beverley had to give her dog away causing her great anguish. The council assessed her as ‘homeless and eligible but not priority need’. She has now had her Housing Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) stopped. On Wednesday 8 June they will come to evict her and with no duty to house her, Beverley will be on the streets.
When Robin Wales announced in April that Newham Council had bought Focus E15 hostel, Brimstone House, from East Thames Housing Association, he said: ‘We cannot turn down this unique opportunity which makes both financial sense at the same time as helping some of our most vulnerable residents.’ So tell us Robin Wales, Labour Mayor of Newham, how throwing vulnerable people out onto the streets with their belongings is helpful?
On Thursday 16 June, at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, Newham Labour Council is up for an award for the best trading standards and environmental health and has been nominated in the best environmental health category. What a slap in the face for the Newham residents who know the reality.
Expose the shameful actions of this Labour council. No one should be indefinitely in temporary accommodation! No one should be out on the streets!
Repopulate the Carpenters Estate where over 400 homes in Stratford lie empty.
Join Focus E15 campaign weekly stall every Saturday 12-2pm, on The Broadway, E15 outside Wilko’s.
Join the protest at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards where both Newham and Lambeth are due to receive awards:
Thursday 16 June 6.30pm
Hilton Hotel London W1K 1BE
Social housing not social cleansing!
The Focus E15 campaign has been catching up with some ex residents from Focus E15 hostel, asking them how they feel about Newham councils recent comment on a previous blog post on this website. In this comment, the council claim that they have “ gone above and beyond to help find suitable accommodation for all the supported young people living in the foyer (Focus E15 hostel)“.
The first to be interviewed about this statement is Keira Josephs, a mother & ex Focus E15 resident.