Category Archives: homelessness

Building campaigns with political solidarity

Andrew is 55 years old and has been street homeless since the 30th of October 2016. Despite being vulnerable and known to local services, Andrew  has been left to sleep out in the deadly cold for 4 months. Members of the Focus E15 campaign, the Revolutionary Communist Group, the Museum of Homelessness and local residents have been joining forces and standing in solidarity with Andrew.

A Focus E15 campaigner reports:

GATE KEEPING MUST STOP
We met Andrew and went to the housing service at Bridge House in Stratford, Newham East London, to ask about finding Andrew a secure home.There were 5 of us in total, we were peaceful and made it clear we were there to support him. We had a banner that said Housing is a Mental Health Issue to let passersby know why we were there. We tried to enter the building at 10.30 am only to be refused entry by security who said that Bridge House is “an appointment only building” and we were told we must go to East Ham’s housing office instead. We refused to leave. The security guard eventually sent down another security guard to take Andrew’s details. After waiting another 30 minutes a receptionist told us we would not be able to speak to a manager and we must go to East Ham.

From previous experience and visits to the  East Ham’s office, we know that people in housing need are often boomeranged from Stratford to East Ham only to be sent back to Stratford. It is ridiculous!

KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
During our time standing outside in the freezing cold, Bridge House pulled down metal shutters and locked the doors to the public building.  A Focus E15 campaigner called the councils housing office and asked to speak to Andrews case worker who said he would call back within the hour, once he had gone over Andrew’s case. Nearly 2 hour later there was still no phone call. So Focus E15 called back and we got put through to another member of staff who explained that the case worker was in a meeting and would call back asap but he didn’t. Finally we spoke to him: he said he would need a further 30 mins.However 30 mins later and what a surprise – still no phone call from him, so we phoned again and received no answer. At this point we began to feel very worried about Andrew as we did not want him spending another night on the streets.

THIS IS HAPPENING TO PEOPLE EVERY DAY
This is the process people are expected to go through. Andrew does not have a phone so how could he possibly ever get to speak to his case worker? He has no money, so how is he supposed to travel to East Ham? This is the treatment homeless people face: being turned away at the door and told to make lengthy expensive phone calls and travel to the other side of the borough.If they do manage to get there, the shutters come down and nobody helps.

WHAT OLYMPIC LEGACY?
On Carpenters Estate, a 30 second walk from Bridge House housing office, there are 410 EMPTY COUNCIL  homes. Some that have been empty for 12 years. And from one extreme to another, shadowing both Bridge House and Carpenters Estate, are  brand new buildings where one of the flats is selling for 15 million pounds. How does any of this make any sense?   Let us also remember that Newham Labour council tried to displace young mothers from Stratford whilst boarding up  its council housing. This is the real Olympic legacy: social cleansing of the working class. Whilst we think about what this means for people, it is worth bearing in mind that there are 300,000 homeless people and 750,000 empty homes in England, which makes 2 and a half empty properties for every homeless person. We have to demand that they are opened for those who need them.

SOLIDARITY CAN WIN
Whilst writing up this blog, we received a phone call saying that Andrew will be offered a place. This just goes to show that when we stand together we see results! However it should not take 5 people going to a housing office with a banner and calling a million times for accommodation to be found for someone in a rich country like ours.

The message here is that we can support people individually but to start to see effective change we need to expose the corruption that happens everyday. We need to fight for our homes and we need to challenge our local elected council as they are not representing us. We have to be loud and we have to remind them that we are watching what they say and do and we will not be silenced and we will not give in.

Andrew is overwhelmed with his new place and said he can not wait to get involved with the campaign.

Come and stand in solidarity with Andrew at the Focus E15 Street stall,every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway.  Let’s plan the beginning of the end of the housing crisis. Together we are stronger.

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Housing Activists from Budapest arrive in London

In November 2016 Focus E15 participated in an exchange with Budapest housing activists who are in a campaign called A Város Mindenkiè– The City is for All (AVM).

This exchange was organised through the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City.  The aim of this exchange, which was the first of its kind run through the European Coalition, was for campaigners in both London and Budapest to share protest techniques, learn new skills and examine our political approaches in the fight for housing.

First, AVM activists came to London and participated in various events –in  the ‘day-to-day’ life of Focus E15 campaigning.

We took them along to our weekly street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway for leafleting, petitioning, using the open mic and of course a bit of street dancing:

Dancing in the street!
Dancing in the street!
Focus E15 campaign Street Stall
Focus E15 Street stall

After the street stall, at the  Focus E15 campaign meeting, activists from AVM gave a presentation about how their campaign in Budapest is structured. We were impressed to learn that their campaign has been active for 6 years with different sub groups, weekly meetings and street stalls  organised on a regular basis. Focus E15 campaign also invited Joel Benjamin from Debt Resistance UK  to speak. Joel presented information on how local council are raking up huge debt due to servicing the interest on massive loans. The interpreters were working very hard to ensure that our guests understood the murky details of Newham Council’s finances and how this relates to the sell off of publicly owned housing.

The evening ended with some fireworks as Focus E15 campaign members challenged the Mayor of Newham Robin Wales over Newham council’s appalling housing record.pic-3

On Sunday, a housing conference co-hosted by Focus E15 and The Revolutionary Communist Group was held in Kings Cross.  The housing activists from AVM spoke about their own experience of homelessness and the extent to which the local Municipals in Budapest take children of homeless or evicted parents into care in a matter of hours. This is what they are exposing and fighting against.

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Focus E15 campaigners then spent a few days in Budapest learning more about AVM and housing issues in Hungary. Prior to 1990, state-owned housing in Hungary accounted for 23% of the overall national housing stock,  rising to 54% in Budapest and 25% in the cities generally.  However, social housing in Budapest has decreased significantly since 1990 when a capitalist government took hold.

We spent most of the time in Budapest in District 8, which is close to the city centre. District 8 has a very right wing Mayor who has accelerated the demolition of social housing and the eviction of poorer residents.  Various tactics are used by the authorities to evict people from the remaining social housing stock. Residents who are in arrears are removed immediately. Others are offered a buy-out deal for little money.  If you refuse this, you are in danger of eviction.  And if you have children and you find yourself evicted, your children will be removed and taken into care.img-20161115-wa0000.jpg

Focus E15 campaigners with AVM in Budapest. ‘Lakhatast Ne Zaklatast’ – ‘Homes not Harassment’.

We also found out that AVM have been supporting people with eviction resistance.  They took us to meet Gizzy, an amazing woman who has been fighting to keep her housing, whilst the Municipal try and push her into an old people’s home – she is in her mid-50s.

We spent a great deal of our time in Budapest discussing tactics with AVM.   We discussed ways to fightback, the confidence to be explicitly left wing and the need to link clear anti racist messages to the struggle for housing.  This is significant in Hungary as the central government is moving down a deeply racist path – this certainly has an effect on the Roma population we met in Budapest.

Other issues discussed were should you bring children to a demonstration, or is it too risky?  Also, how do you ensure that you are not simply ‘fire-fighting’ individual housing issues,  but ensuring people stay involved and are inspired to lead a bigger movement in the fight for housing?

If you would like to find out more about our trip to Budapest, see some slides and discuss all these issues more, Focus E15 will be holding a full presentation and discussion at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 December, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN, 2.30-4.30pm. All Welcome.

Police station targeted by housing activists

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).

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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

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Everyday people face evictions in Newham

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!

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Jennifer, second from the right joins the Focus E15 street stall

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!

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Living  out of bags at Focus E15 hostel – awaiting eviction.