On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/
There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.
The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.
This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.
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.
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.’
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.
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).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from 12-2pm. Together we are stronger!
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.
The Agent who was showing the property agreed he would never house his family in this flat.
This is private accommodation offered by Newham Council. What a disgrace from a Council that prides itself on tackling slum private landlords.
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?
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.
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.
Take back ownership of empty properties in Dublin.
35 Summerhill Parade is a property owned by Pat and PJ O’Donnell (owners of POD, and sponsors of the Clare GAA team). It is part of a cluster of properties on Summerhill Parade owned by the O’Donnell family. All properties have issues with overcrowding, insecure tenancies and dodgy cash in-hand dealings. A total of 120 tenants were housed in just five properties, each paying between €350-€450 for a bed in a shared room with 6-8 people in each room. In May, mass evictions occurred resulting in 120 tenants being illegally evicted over the duration of a week.
The O’Donnell’s bought Aldborough House, a derelict Georgian mansion in 2016 and have recently been granted approval to develop it into office spaces. No consideration was given to the needs of the local community. Instead, there has been a push from the owners to create slum conditions in the area as a means to get housing prices down and buy up bargain properties to redevelop – after all, the workers in the O’Donnell’s new, plush office spaces are going to need equally plush places to live. It’s a fine example of gentrification in action. Since the evictions in May, properties have sat empty while the housing crisis in Dublin worsens.
Rents across Ireland have risen by 70% since 2008 and Dublin is particularly being effected. The average rent across Ireland during the first three months of this year was €1,261, a monthly increase of €232 compared to the previous peak in 2008. This is why housing and community activists have taken decisive action and occupied the property of Summerhill Parade because enough is enough! Pat O’Donnell should not be allowed to leave potential homes empty.
Rent hikes, evictions, poor housing conditions, people stuck in overcrowded homes, people sleeping in bunkbeds, or packed into their relative’s homes; couch-surfing, sleeping rough, living in hostels or upset by poor quality council provision – we hear about horrendous housing situations every day now, we all know somebody who is affected by housing insecurity. And yet, those in power sit on their hands. There is no political will to make real, meaningful change to the housing crisis we face.
This is why we send our solidarity greetings to the occupation in Dublin. Our immediate demand: houses owned by Pat O’Donnell on Summerhill Parade must be compulsory purchased by Dublin City Council and given back to the local community. Private, vacant properties can and should be put into public ownership. We call on people to take action and get involved in building a housing movement that demands homes for all! People before profit! Victory to the Summerhill occupation!
Those interested in setting up similar occupations, please get in touch. The housing crisis is not a natural disaster and we do not need to accept that this is simply the way it is. Things just won’t get better on their own – action is needed, by people and for people. Everyone needs a home!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Saturday12-2pm, 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