Category Archives: Focus E15 Campaign

Demands from Newham residents living in Brimstone house grow louder

Brimstone house in Stratford in Newham East London is the name of the former Focus E15 hostel. Conditions have changed very little since Robin Wales closed down the mother and baby unit there 5 years ago. Families are still living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, unsure of how long they will be left there and extremely worried about being evicted and being sent out of London altogether by Newham council. Focus E15 campaign believe that residents from Brimstone house need to be rehoused in their community close to their support networks and this is what residents are demanding.

The stressful eviction process should stop- however families must not be left in prison like conditions for years on end! Suitable accommodation must be found (even if that means the Council opening up empty properties in the borough) as big, bold solutions are urgently needed to provide Newham residents with long term housing.

Residents have come up with demands which were discussed and given to the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing at a significant meeting that took place at Stratford Town Hall on Saturday 27 October.

Immediate demands

  • Open the conservatory space in Brimstone House for communal use and open the locked children’s park next door.
  • Review the security procedures so that they protect the residents instead of punishing/hindering them
  • More washing machines should be provided at no extra cost to residents with an aim of creating a community run launderette with an attendant.

Below are wider demands (however residents would still like to see action on these before Christmas!):

  • No more evictions from Brimstone house until safe, suitable accommodation is found in Newham, like  Carpenters Estate
  • To recognise that everyone has the right to refuse accommodation outside of the borough without being labelled as ‘intentionally homeless’ (sic). End the use of this policy!
  • Stop threats from council workers to involve social services (i.e if you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ we will rehouse your children but not you).

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Housing should be seen a basic right in a rich country like ours.
Victory to Brimstone house residents in their fight for decent long term housing! 

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Dublin and Glasgow  – first hand reports from the Housing Struggles!

Reports from recent solidarity trips to Take Back The City Dublin and Living Rent Campaign Glasgow

Active solidarity with anti-racist housing campaigns is key in the struggle to build a unified movement to challenge a system which is failing from one City to the next.  Debating different methods and politics with other housing campaigns is an important part of our work.  To that end we were recently hosted by Take Back The City Dublin and also by Living Rent Campaign in Glasgow, as we joined them for their AGM.

 

Take Back The City – Dublin, Ireland

(Previously called Summerhill Occupation) Take Back The City contacted Fe15 campaign during their first occupation.  We were very excited to show solidarity with them, and you can see their initial statement published on our blog.  Following a second occupation, we decided to visit these brave campaigners in August to hold a discussion, visit the occupation and make the links between London and Dublin, as many campaigners from these Cities have done in the past.

We spoke at a public street meeting in Dublin, Ireland:  Watch here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2115174032081958/?active_tab=discussion

Dublin’s rents are as high as in London.  This is a City of many empty homes and many homeless families.  The growing action in Ireland is an illustration of organised resistance to this;  people are  fighting back!

Take Back The City has evolved from the work between many different political groups, campaigns and individuals.  They are demonstrating the strength of fast paced direct action, but they have also shown us how brutally the state can try and squash political action which is making a difference;  campaigners were hospitalised during violent evictions last month.

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Garda (Irish Police) violently evict Campaigners

This state intimidation has not thrown off this campaign, and they are mobilising large numbers across Ireland to fight for housing.  We will continue links with these comrades. Follow their action and like their page here: https://www.facebook.com/TakeBackTheCityDublin/

 

Living Rent Campaign – Glasgow

Focusing on organising renters in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, this new tenants union  held their first AGM last weekend and launched a new campaign ‘Not a Penny More’ .

 

Living Rent along with other groups and individuals organised against the eviction of 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow in July, and they have been growing ever since.  Fe15 were invited to be on the panel of their opening session ‘Housing Struggles, Women in the lead’.  Speaking alongside two women from Living Rent, we presented our 10 lessons from 5 years of campaigning to a packed audience in South West Glasgow in the radical  neighborhood of Govan, which gave birth to the revolutionary 1915 rent strike and Mrs. Barbour’s Army of women;  leading all the way!

https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/

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(Mary Barbour’s Army memorial statue, Govan)

Rates of homelessness  are substantially higher in Glasgow than in other areas of Scotland.

GLek                                                                  Number of children living in temporary accommodation (Shelter Scotland 2017/2018)

Excerpt from Living Rent AGM opening statement:

…. our union is not, and should not, be interested in co-opting the power of the institutions that have created the housing crisis. Instead, our interest lies in building our own institutional power – one that is equipped to defend itself, run by tenants, for tenants.’

We endorse these principles and are excited to see a growing housing movement in Glasgow built on this solid foundation.

 

Read the full Living Rent AGM opening and closing statements here:

https://www.livingrent.org/opening_and_closing_speeches_from_our_glasgow_agm

 

London to Glasgow,

Dublin to London, 

One Struggle, One Fight!

 

 

 

Newham families are being sent to live in Bradford.

Newham housing department decided that a disabled mother of two made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ after she missed a housing appointment due to emergency hospitalisation – now the council and social services are trying to move this brave family out of London all the way to Bradford in the North of England!

Focus E15 campaign was approached by this family at our street stall in Stratford and is featuring her story on our blog post below – as one of the many examples of enforced social cleansing that we hear about. Please read on to understand the battle people are facing to be housed adequately in their communities.

A resident tells her story to Focus E15 campaign

I am a disabled mother with two children, who has been living in temporary accommodation since 2008. In 2015 my family was moved into a room in a hostel by the Homelessness Unit. Here we had to share a bathroom with other tenants, rendering my equipment necessary to assist me with my disabilities useless. The council did not take into consideration my disabilities when placing me here, and it’s been extremely hard trying to cope without the use of my equipment.

After repeatedly informing the council of my condition there was a lack of response  so I sought legal advice to assist me in finding somewhere more suitable for my family and my disability. Subsequently we were moved to a two-bedroom home in Newham.

After living in temporary two bedroom accommodation for three years, the council offered us accommodation out of London in Basildon, with a date to view the property. On the morning of the viewing I had a severe panic-attack and was hospitalised in Newham General Hospital, thus missing the appointment to view the property. My solicitor informed Newham Council that I would be unable to attend the viewing due to this hospitalisation. The council did not reschedule the viewing or even enquire about my health, instead they stopped paying my rent and said I made myself intentionally homeless!

In fact, I had no knowledge that the council stopped my rent until I received a knock on my door with an eviction letter from my private landlord. Newham Council had decided to withdraw me from their duty of care sighting I “refused” the property offered. The council came to this decision without taking into consideration my medical condition or the medical evidence with my GP or Newham General Hospital.

I sought legal action to challenge this accusation of intentional homelessness, but the court decided to vote in favour of the council. I feel this is very unjust as no evidence has been provided by the council  to show I have refused the property in Basildon.

Furthermore, in June 2017, prior to the eviction notice, the ceiling fell on top of me while I was asleep in bed – I was rushed into hospital by emergency services and have been left with serve long term injuries. I have informed the council and MP Stephen Timms however they have simply brushed this incident aside despite the injuries I sustained – we even sent pictures of the incident and injuries sustained to the council however no action was taken.

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Pictures showing the fallen in ceiling and subsequent rubble

Following Newham Council withdrawing their duty of care to find suitable accommodation for my children and I, social services have stepped in to put us in a temporary two bedroom flat at the top of 4 flights of stairs, with no lift, despite my severe mobility problems.

To my horror social services are now saying they have no other choice but to send me and my family to Bradford –this is over 230 miles away,  a place where I do not know anyone. All my support networks would disappear and my children would have to start life all over again. This would make us extremely isolated. This treatment by the council is very stressful and is causing serious effect on our health. I am currently undergoing therapy to try and help with this.

The process and the lack of evidence-based decision making by the council is affecting our basic human rights to have a secure home. We have not had a fair hearing with all evidence presented. Instead our position has been ignored and a decision has been made by the council to unilaterally withdraw their duty of care to my family. My family saw Sara’s story in the Newham Recorder and reached out to Focus E15 campaign.

Keep people in their communities near their support networks! No more social cleansing! Join us on the streets this Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford and organise with those facing eviction and social cleansing.

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 victory in court- but the fight against ‘intentional homelessness’ goes on.

Focus E15 campaigners were thrilled that Sara won her right to appeal against Newham Council after a victorious appearance in court on Thursday 26 July. The council had said that Sara had made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ for refusing to give up her life in Newham where she has a job, where her children go to school and where all her family and support networks are, after she rejected an offer of a place outside of London.  We were very surprised that this case had even gone to court as we have been highlighting this case to Newham council for over 6 months.

Focus E15 campaign strongly believe that families and communities must stay together to be strong and connected. Mental health distress is becoming all too common due to rising levels of housing insecurity and homelessness.  After the court ruling Newham council have promised to review Sara’s case.  If their review is favourable, then the decision to discharge their legal duty to house Sara will be withdrawn. If their review is not favourable, then the discharge decision will stand, but Sara will be entitled to proceed with an appeal against that decision. Focus E15 campaign will continue to support Sara, ensuring that she has access to legal advice and representation. Watch the report on RT below.

We say loud and clear that there is NO such thing as intentional homelessness!
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What is happening at Brimstone house?

Focus E15 campaign have been continuing to highlight the unsuitable living conditions at the former Focus E15 hostel, now owned by Newham council and renamed as Brimstone house.  GRIMstone house may be a more fitting name for it because so many vulnerable adults and children are living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.

The stories we heard from residents on Saturday 28 July at an organised campaign fun day were alarming.  One women we spoke to is being evicted imminently.  She has a daughter who is disabled. The only advice she has been given is to go to the charity Shelter upon eviction.  She has no idea what will happen.

Another man we spoke to who is in a wheelchair is living in a flat that is not designed in an accessible manner – so much so that he cannot wash in his bathroom and travels to a disabled centre in Newham to take a shower. This is not on and surely cannot be even legal?

There has been no change to the prison-like atmosphere of visitors having to sign in to see friends and being vetted. Outrageously, the other issues are the continuous difficulties for disabled occupants to gain access to their own accommodation as the door entry system requires fob access.  As there is still restrictions placed on friends’ or relatives’ visits, they can not stay overnight even when essential for support.

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Brimstone house residents having fun with Focus E15 campaigners

We have alerted the Mayor and relevant councillors who promise that a site visit will take place and that a meeting will be held to listen to residents concerns.  The council may need to provide free legal advice in order for these residents to get the housing justice that they deserve.

We can’t help thinking that the best long term security for these residents would be on the Carpenters Estate. Watch this space for updates on resident meetings over the next few weeks and stay tuned for further updates on Sara’s case. In the meantime, see you on the streets in August outside Wilko’s on Saturday’s between 12-2pm (NB no street stall on 4th August).

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Brimstone house residents live in temporary accommodation whilst at the same time 3 tower blocks down the road, on Carpenters Estate have remained empty for over 10 years.

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!

Housing Justice in the new Newham!

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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 

Thank you for your support and solidarity. Please share this post if you can.
For more background information on Sara’s case, please have a look at the other blog pieces up on this site:

https://focuse15.org/2018/03/ 12/sara-made-intentionally- homeless-by-newham-council/

https://focuse15.org/2017/12/ 08/sara-and-her-children-must- stay-in-newham/

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Wave goodbye to Robin Wales – unpopular Mayor is deselected by Newham Labour!

Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018.  It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving homes empty and boarding up Carpenters Estate. Today 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless as a result.

Focus E15 Campaign will be pleased to see the back of Robin Wales – because he was an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and lately using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. However the campaign also knows full well that the pressure needs to be applied to the new (very likely Labour) Mayor to promote a sustainable housing policy that benefits and suits the needs of working class residents.

Before the next leg of the campaign is fired up, Focus E15 campaign will be reflecting on the last four years and celebrating  Robin Wales’s deselection on Saturday at their street stall in Stratford by having a bit of a party and then carrying on raising awareness of all the above issues by taking an open top bus through the streets of Newham. Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone explains that:

“Robin Wales is out! We have spent, four and a half  years fighting his social cleansing and demanding the repopulation of Carpenters estate! So many times being locked out of council meetings, attacked by private security at the Mayor’s show, arrested illegally for protesting against wrongful evictions and now he is out! Good riddance. However the fight is not over. We must make sure that the Newham People’s Charter demands are heard and met. And Robin Wales I think you will need to use Workplace and find a new job… can’t imagine anyone wanting to employ you though….

Watch this and share… More about Robin Wales’ legacy…

https://twitter.com/focuse15/status/974290151785598978?s=21

https://www.facebook.com/focuse15/videos/1667864403256905/

Let us not let Newham Labour Party and the new Mayor off the hook -we must hold them to account immediately! Read more about the Newham’s People’s Charter which Focus E15 campaign is endorsing here:
https://focuse15.org/2018/03/11/newham-peoples-charter-drawn-up-as-robin-wales-faces-deselection/

Please do join us in our celebrations to mark an end of a long era for Newham at our weekly stall on Saturday 17 March – 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, London E15 1NG and then afterwards for more adventures on the free Focus E15 bus trip around Newham. Bring children, placards, food and drink!

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Why I am A Focus E15 Campaigner: celebrating International Women’s Day

Rebecca Morris from Focus E15 Campaign gives a personal reflection on International Women’s Day.

On March 8 Focus E15 Campaign will be marking International Women’s Day by joining the International Women’s Strike, and singing with Rebel Choir in Russell Square from 1pm. The Rebel Choir is an activist-community choir. Together we will be singing songs in solidarity with victims of abuse, UCU strikers, mothers in Colchester who are protesting at the introduction of Universal Credit, and with women and non-binary people the world over. Then at 5pm, we are going to make a din at the mayoral proceedings in Newham, in solidarity with a single mother of two who is about to be evicted by the council for refusing to be relocated to Birmingham: https://www.facebook.com/events/2037697086489971/

I want to talk about why I think it is still important to participate in the Women’s Strike and why I am a Focus E15 campaigner.  I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I am a mother. I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I identify as a woman. I am part of Focus E15 Campaign because we campaign for a society where all, regardless of gender, background, race or familial attachments have an adequate home – a place to feel safe and comfortable. This is not the reality for many people. Every week on the Focus E15 stall horror stories are heard: evictions from rogue landlords, the awful, cramped conditions of temporary accommodation, where some families share just one room for lengthy periods of time, making it seem as if we really have gone back in time.

A hundred years ago, Sylvia Pankhurst’s campaigned for decent housing in the East End and her writings discuss the inadequacies of housing for the working class. The following outlines what she considered to be essential for every family home:

“A moment’s thought conjures up many requirements which should be considered essential to every home, but which in almost every working-class home are lacking. Each adult member is surely entitled to at least one room of his or her own (and whoever works or studies all day at home should have two rooms). There should be a place, to sit in, a place to meet friends in, a place to read and be quiet in, a place out of doors where the children can play in fine warm weather, and a place indoors for wet, cold weather, furnished with toys and childish things. These are essential, but the problem of cleaning and tidying must be taken into account, for the housewife must not be an overworked slave.”

It is depressing that nowadays this vision seems impossible for so many. Yet we must not give in for our struggle for decent secure homes for all.

Focus E15 campaign was started by 29 young mothers who were about to be evicted from their hostel by Newham council, they stood together and refused to leave their communities. Over 4 years on, Focus E15 continues the weekly street stall on the Stratford Broadway. It is a multi-gendered campaign that would not have been able to win countless victories without the support of so many from the community.

In Paul Watt’s recent article, Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East London, he breaks down how Newham council and our neighbouring council of Waltham Forest used the greater powers councils received to allocate council houses after the 2011 Localism act. Waltham Forest slashed 11,925 applicants off its waiting list, the largest reduction in England, while Newham sliced 5000 off its list, the eighth largest reduction. They began prioritising applicants in paid employment and ex-members of the armed forces. As Watt argues, “this prioritisation has had considerable, albeit under-appreciated, gendered effects. Newham and Waltham Forests’ housing allocations’ policies effectively discriminate against women who have a small presence in the armed forces and are also less likely than men to be in paid employment, not least because of caring responsibilities.”

Watt uses personal case studies with single mothers to further outline the disadvantages women and children experience in temporary accommodation. These mothers have the right to be in safe public housing yet their “safety was jeopardised by their experiences of living in temporary accommodation where they had to share communal areas with strangers, including men who could be intimidating and even violent.” Moreover, Watt argues the huge disadvantages to mothers being re-housed out of borough, and the fact that particularly in the time of austerity they rely heavily on support and services of the city. The campaign believes it is vital that we support and give solidarity to the most vulnerable. If lone parents struggle to find a safe home for their children, then our society has failed.

Yet herein lies another issue that Focus E15 have had to contend with: the dichotomy of mothers and women who consider themselves activists being labelled as ‘victims’. It sometimes feels as if no matter how clued up and radical we are as campaigners, the mainstream media and those in power will only listen, or lend us a voice if we are presented as victims, or fragile women who only went the radical route when all other options failed. When the campaign started, the mothers did not give in, and who knows what might have happened to them if they had. They fought back and responded quickly. They did this simply by knocking on each other’s doors; by organising together with other political groups; keeping each other’s spirits up; supporting each other; going out onto the streets and talking to people and asking them to sign a petition.

I truly believe that Focus E15 Campaign is challenging traditional power structures through collective organising. Involved in the campaign are a fantastic and creative collective of people; pooling resources to create dynamic publicity stunts; generating memes; sourcing local news about the council; sharing inspiring quotes, videos and raising political awareness. There is so much power in this style of organising. We look out for each other. And we are not victims.

We want to inspire other people, women, mothers, children to start a campaign. You are never too young or too old – there is a diversity of ages represented in our campaign, and children have always played a huge part, always present at the weekly street stall in Stratford.

To conclude, I would like to recall a moment that stood out to me at an open meeting we recently had on children and homelessness. A member of Focus E15, the housing activist and single mother of three who has been re-located to Basildon, stood up, and brushing angry tears away from her eyes, told a silent room how as a result of her displacement she had suffered racism in her local area, as well as mental health issues, yet maintained that no matter how she is treated by the council and her neighbours, she will stay determined to fight until she sees victory, and that she has been able to do this with the support of Focus E15. This put me in mind of a quote by Sylvia Pankhurst, one that we have had stitched onto a banner by activist and artist, Andrew Cooper: “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving”.

Positive community housing meeting held in East London

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:

https://www.katebelgrave.com/2018/02/intentionally-homeless-with-kids-council-will-house-the-kids-but-not-you-ie-youll-be-separated-from-them-the-hell-with-this/

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 http://libbyliburd.co.uk/index.html.

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!