Category Archives: housing crisis

Tears, hope and anger at first housing meeting of the year.

It really is exciting to get back into hosting in person public meetings again, as the campaign’s tenth year approaches. The need for innovative campaigns, built through direct experiences and political commitment, creating new knowledge in the process are vital if we are going to move debates on housing into action on the streets and to inform the political struggles that lie ahead.

We are humans, not numbers! We demand to live in dignity and security. The meeting was attended by current campaigners, loyal supporters and new friends of the campaign. Staunch fighters from Brimstone House Victoria Street were there with their children and we heard a moving dignified account of life in temporary accommodation.

We also cheered and clapped about the campaign’s recent victory – overturning the insulting accusation of intentional homelessness and forcing Newham Labour council to reverse a discharge of housing duty. The important points made about the law and its limitations by guest speaker social justice barrister David Renton, rang true. He states in his recent book,

Instead of seeking change within the bounds of the law, social movements should rather look to their ability to force change, their willingness to protest, occupy and strike’.

We pledged to continue to educate, agitate and organise, raise consciousness and stand together with solidarity and support for each other.

A belated Happy New Year to all our comrades and supporters. See you all soon on the street stall and at our next actions and meetings throughout the coming year.

Victory! Newham Council forced to reinstate housing duty

A mother and child, survivors of domestic abuse were labelled by the Council as having made themselves intentionally homeless, and therefore, the council discharged its housing duty to this family.

The family, who are living in an overcrowded hostel, had questioned the Council over an unsuitable offer of housing because the new property was in an area that is local to the perpetrator. What follows from a discharge of housing duty is eviction and often, a referral to social services. The family were extremely frightened and upset.

Due to having no option but to fight back, this mother was involved in collective action with Focus E15 campaign, in a process that culminated in a demonstration outside and inside the full council meeting on 16 January, at the Old Town Hall in Stratford. Council officials responded by offering a face to face meeting.

After this meeting took place on 19 January the council was forced to reverse the decision to discharge their duty. The woman said:

The public support I have been shown since we protested at the Newham Council meeting on Monday has been amazing. On the basis of this pressure, today Newham Council scrapped the decision to discharge their duty to me and I am no longer threatened with intentional homelessness. Protest works.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was also forced by pressure and protest in May 2022 to promise that all families with children would be moved out of the notorious 10 Victoria Street hostel by May 2023 as it is no place for children to grow up in. However, threatening eviction as an exit strategy from this building is a shameful moment for the Council. We must ensure that decent homes are now found.

Stand with all those families still languishing in Victoria Street hostel, and with all those moved out into damp, cold homes with mould that the council has allowed to fall into disrepair.

Housing Justice and Respect!
No Evictions! No Excuses! No Threats!

Focus E15 will be celebrating on the street stall outside Wilko’s this Saturday from 12pm.

Why I am taking action: Demand homes not council harassment!

Newham council has stated that it is discharging its housing duty towards a survivor of domestic violence, a woman and child who are trying to get their lives back on track after Newham placed them in an overcrowded hostel.

Abused first by a perpetrator of domestic violence and then again by Newham council who has discharged its housing duty, this devastating process where survivors are left in inadequate accommodation has been highlighted by the Public Interest Law Centre in a recent report into how councils are failing to house survivors of domestic violence.

This resident is calling for action at a Newham council meeting on Monday 16 January, outside the Old Town Hall in Stratford. She clearly explains:

‘I am taking action because no one should be labelled intentionally homeless! I was instructed by Newham council to move to a property in an area that is unsafe for me and my child to live in due to past domestic violence. I was scared. I couldn’t do it. Now the council has discharged its housing duty towards me.

Is this what Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz had in mind last year when she promised to end the suffering of families in 10 Victoria street, Stratford E15?

In May 2022, Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was forced, under pressure from Focus E15 campaign and residents of 10 Victoria Street, to declare that by May 2023 all families with children would be moved out of the hostel, which is a shoddy, unsuitable, overcrowded building.

There will be no let up in campaigning while these families are still living in the hostel or being moved into damp, overcrowded, substandard homes and being labelled intentionally homeless for even questioning a housing offer.

Join us on Monday 16 January at 6.30pm onwards to protest and demonstrate outside the council meeting at Stratford Old Town Hall in Newham:

Old Town Hall
29 The Broadway
Stratford
E15 4BQ

Bring your placards and anger because this council makes mothers and children homeless! Shame on Newham Labour council!
Homes not harassment!


Artist view of tiny homes

Victoria Street – no place for children

In May 2022, Labour Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, under pressure from Focus E15 campaign, was forced to say that all families with children will be moved out of Brimstone House, Victoria Street by May 2023. 

Victoria Street is a building designed for single young people and now those same rooms/flats are being used by Newham Labour council to house families with children in emergency and temporary accommodation.

Those living in Victoria Street with children are struggling. Those families who have been moved out are also experiencing the appalling conditions of the private rented sector, the poorly-maintained council sector and the ongoing issues of temporary accommodation with insecurity and anxiety about the future and long term stability, job, support networks, schooling. 

Currently more than a quarter of all renters in Britain, overwhelmingly the poorest families, live in substandard, badly insulated homes, vulnerable to cold damp and mould. With the rising fuel costs and the impossibility of adequately heating homes, the impact on children’s heath and development will be devastating. 

Below a resident speaks about what it means to live in a cramped overcrowded space with a child in Brimstone House, Victoria Street. Readers will see the aerial drawing of the space that this mother and her nine year old child live in, forced to share a bed, and with no place to do homework and no space to play, while the tiny table they eat off, is also the mother’s workspace as she works from home. These small rooms are called one-bedroom flats, meaning families don’t count as being overcrowded and get nowhere on the bidding system. 

Tiny cramped room in Victoria Street hostel. Photos by Edward Saunders-Forde
Andrew Cooper’s drawing depict the cramped conditions at the hostel in Victoria Street.
Scale drawing of a space (called a one-bedroom flat) where mother (height 1.65m) and nine year old daughter (height 1.4m) live. They have to share the double bed. 

Interview with the resident with Focus E15 campaign follows:

What is it like living in such a cramped place?

There is no space in the box bedroom to put in a chest of drawers for our clothes, so it is in the kitchen and then they call it a lounge/living area and tell me legally I have two rooms to sleep in. That is what they said when I challenged the fact that I have to share a double bed with my daughter. What a ridiculous story this is. My kitchen is a corridor. No way is this a one-bedroom flat. 

There is no storage, how do you manage with your belongings?

One chest of drawers, one tiny wardrobe, not enough for two people. That is only enough if you are on holiday for a few days with summer clothes. We are not allowed to bring in any of our own furniture, not that it would fit anyway, so we have my stuff and my daughter’s stuff – including clothes, towels, toiletries, shoes, school books, school work, pencil and pens, toys, everything – in boxes. All our household is in boxes, all around the place, making it even more difficult to walk around the tiny space. 

Describe the psychological effect of living in such a cramped place in Victoria Street.

I feel so anxious every time I have to ask my daughter to move away from the kitchen table so that I can pass and reach some of my clothes. She will move to the room full of boxes and then I need to reach something else and have to ask her to move again. She is upset, thinks she is always in the way, as if her presence is a problem for me. It is so hard to explain and she is tired of living like this. I feel so down and depressed. I don’t know how long I can cope without stability and without space for living. 

Can you say something about the past and the future?

I feel like the council is not telling me the whole truth and hiding important information and in general it feels like they work against me rather than with me. Being homeless is stressful and scary and with so many other issues such as being a single parent, financial insecurity, health issues, relationship difficulties. No one asks to be homeless, but then when it happens you feel you are a burden. I feel powerless. We have had to move around for years. This all seems ignored by the council. Priority on the bidding system is random. They are playing with our lives. 

Where is my baby going to go?

A mother at Victoria Street hostel is sharing a double bed with her two year old child. There is no space in the one room she has been allocated by Newham Labour council for her soon to be born baby and cot. She is due to give birth in 10 days and is extremely worried about how her baby will sleep.

Paediatric advice clearly states that a new born baby should not share a double bed and should be sleeping in a cot or moses basket.

We demand that this family are immediately moved into long term safe and affordable accommodation where there is space for a cot and room for the family to live. Moving is the only course of action that will provide the safety and security the children and mother so desperately need. Otherwise the baby will be in a dangerous situation.

Victoria Street E15: the Mayor concedes it’s no place for children but residents demand to know how & where they’ll be rehoused

On 25 May at Newham’s Annual Council Meeting, parents and children of Victoria Street, Stratford E15, and members of Focus E15 campaign, stood up with banners and placards to get their voices heard. Fed up of being under the radar, fed up of housing officers not replying to emails, fed up of being fobbed off and left in Victoria Street, sharing beds parents and families, no space for cots, toddlers with nowhere to walk, children doing homework on their beds, no ventilation, no space, mental health trauma, prison-like feeling to the building – we all shouted: We are humans, not numbers. Victoria Street is no place for Children.

The Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz acted promptly to remove heavy handed security and usher everyone to another room, putting the meeting on hold, and apologising to the residents of the building for what they are going through – unacceptable she said. She made a promise, repeated in the chamber afterwards, and recorded for posterity, that by May 2023 no more families with children would be in Victoria Street, no more to be moved in and all those there to be moved out. She spoke of the first year of her tenure, as if this was all news to her. But this is her second term in office as Mayor of Newham, and she knows very well the outrageous and degrading conditions of those who live in Victoria Street.

Watch the Mayor’s speech on Wed 25 May 2022

After years of campaigning with residents of this slum-like, overcrowded, damp, cramped, unsafe building, this is indeed a victory. However, the question remains – how and where will residents be rehoused.

Since 25 May, there has been two meetings with the Mayor, the Director of Housing and their teams. They have also visited Victoria Street. The first meeting coincided with a brutal attack the previous evening on a woman in the doorway of her flat within Victoria Street, with her child present. It transpired that the security door was broken, the intruder had a fob and the CCTV cameras don’t work. The Mayor and Director of Housing are very sorry. It shouldn’t happen.

Monthly meetings have been implemented to address all the issues. The Mayor and the Director of Housing admit that they can’t give a guarantee that everyone will get permanent housing, they are not allowed to implement a rent cap, the Right to Buy has taken away council housing, they are looking at the impact of overcrowding in the private rented sector, especially on children, that the standards of the landlord licensing scheme are not good enough, and repeat again and again and again that there are 34,000 people in Newham on the housing waiting list and the council must act legally and fairly and therefore can’t make everyone in Victoria Street top priority.

The residents are organising and they are angry. There is no rhyme or reason to who is offered what. The bidding system via choice-based lettings system is the only way of getting permanent housing, the allocated resettlement officer is pushing people to take offers that they deem suitable, appropriate and affordable, in the private rented sector.   If a resident says no, then they have made themselves  intentionally homeless and the council washes its hands of them. This threat leaves families no choice but to accept temporary accommodation, meaning more insecurity, more moves, more school changes for children, often loss of support networks and more mental health pressure.

The latest family to be moved out of Victoria Street;  a mother and two school-age children, offered a place out of borough, away from support networks, family and childcare, an hour from the children’s school and no choice but to accept to avoid intentional homelessness. They moved in (unfurnished, only white goods) to find no water in the kitchen, no hot water at all, almost £2,000 unpaid on the gas/electric. They were told by the repair person to not touch the switch on the cooker, told by the housing officer to turn on the red switch – leading to a blast, a bang and smoke from the red switch. This was a terrifying event, and a wholly unsafe and unacceptable situation. Phone calls were made and emails  sent in an attempt to contact appropriate people. The outcome: the council is moving the family back to Victoria Street while it sorts out the problems.

Meanwhile, one of the residents shared a photo of the living space she and her nine-year old daughter have in Victoria Street (below). Only one double bed that they share. The bed is also the only place for the child to do homework. This is not only unacceptable, it is criminal and has lasting health effects on families.

The Mayor and the Labour council in Newham may well have inherited a system that they feel is not of their making and are very sorry. But sorry is not enough.

Together the fight must go on to expose what is happening and demand long term, safe and secure, housing for everyone, not just those who can pay for it.

Newham residents disrupt council meeting due to mounting concerns about living conditions.

Victoria Street! No place for children!

At Newham’s well-attended public Annual Council Meeting on Wednesday 25 May, mothers and children of 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15 (formerly called Brimstone House and Focus E15 foyer) stood up with banners and placards to make their voices heard about the unacceptable conditions in the building. They were brave and strong acting in solidarity together.

For years residents, supported by Focus E15 campaign, have documented every day life at the hostel – cramped,unlivable for families, appalling accommodation with mattresses that give backache and living conditions that lead to depression, damp and stuffy rooms, no privacy for women forced to change in front of their sons. Parents and children of all ages are forced to share beds together due to lack of space, there is aggressive security on the door and no space for children to play. Children and adults with disabilities live in unsuitable and distressing conditions and fire alarms go off through the night.

This is the horror of emergency accommodation that merges into temporary and can last for years. It is no place for children and families because it is a building designed for single young adults and living like this is effecting everyone’s mental health.

As the interruption of the council meeting began, security ran forward to silence the campaigners and take the banners away, but their voices were heard above the commotion explaining to the large crowd why this was necessary and that the appalling living conditions for so many in the borough must not be below the radar and buried from public view.

Residents from Victoria Street protesting at length of stay at the hostel and the effect it is having on their children.

The Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz stepped down from the podium and came over. She officially stopped the meeting and took the campaigners downstairs with a few of her entourage to another room. The Mayor apologised for there not being any resolution to Victoria Street since she came into office for her first term in 2018 – embarrassing, shameful and morally unjust were her words. She admitted that housing services are a mess.

Then, significantly, Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, said that she would go back to the main meeting and in her address would announce the ending of the placement of families with children in Victoria Street. She pledged that by the end of the first year of this term, she would work to have all families rehoused from Victoria Street. Residents cheered.

Labour-run Newham council has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness, the highest number of households in temporary accommodation, more households on its housing waiting list than any other London council, and the worst overcrowding at 25.2% of households. There are also empty homes all around the borough and council homes that have been left to rot.

This is a key moment to note these promises and hold the Mayor firmly to them.

Victory to the families of Victoria Street! Collective action is the way forward. Housing justice for all now!

Join Focus E15 campaign on the weekly stall outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, Saturdays 12-2pm.

Residents join in solidarity and raise their collective spritits to say rehouse us now!

Stop false promises and electioneering – we demand deeds not words!

Over the last 9 years, Focus E15 campaign has battled with Newham Labour Council about the conditions in Focus E15/Brimstone House/Victoria Street hostel.  While the name of the hostel has changed over the years, the appalling living conditions remain the same.

Here we go again. 5 May 2022 and time for local elections. Focus E15 campaign demand that the next lot of elected representatives, actually do something for the most marginalised in our communities and represent those living in overcrowded, shoddy accommodation. In the words of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, one hundred years ago, we demand DEEDS NOT WORDS.

Life in 10 Victoria Street hostel, Newham Stratford, London E15 in 2022

‘This place is like a prison. It is like three people living in a cage.’ Parents of a newborn baby in Victoria Street.

Nine years from the start of the campaign, Focus E15 campaign stands side by side with residents facing the same housing issues due to the same hostel. Parents and children are still being crammed into tiny rooms, with no space for homework or study or privacy. There is damp and mould, no ventilation, parents sharing beds with children, no space for babies to crawl or toddlers to walk. Residents are expected to use laundrettes at higher cost as the washing machines are dirty, with frequently broken lifts, alarms sounding regularly even overnight, case workers/housing officers who say they have too much to take on and to stop contacting them. There is additional suffering and worry about children with disabilities who need space and calm, and very little face to face support.

Focus E15 hostel

Focus E15 campaign emerged from the Mother and Baby Unit of the Focus E15 Foyer hostel over nine years ago. When the young mothers moved in they were told they would be there three to six months and out by the time the baby was crawling. However they were left for years with growing children, less space and eventually an eviction notice with no offer of either permanent, affordable or local housing.

Back when the building was run as a young people’s hostel it was owned and run by East Thames housing association and funded by Newham council. When Newham council withdrew funding and the housing association issued eviction notices, the mothers began to organise and take action to stop them being forced out of London to housing in Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester.

Clip from the start of the campaign

See a clip of Chris Woodhead from East Thames Housing Association in 2014 stating the hostel is ‘not suitable’.

The young mothers were fighting to stay local, be rehoused adequately, and acting to highlight the unliveable, dangerous and brutally depressing conditions Newham Labour council had placed them in – in the Focus E15 hostel, later named Brimstone House and now known as 10 Victoria Street.

The battle for housing justice went up a gear in 2013/14, once residents knew of the empty homes all around the borough and over 410 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate. Having destroyed them by leaving them empty for over a decade, now the council are on-track to demolish these council homes and replace them with various types of housing, none of it council.

In the last nine years, Focus E15 campaign has been a thorn in the side of Newham council, seeing off the Mayor Robin Wales and now taking on Rokhsana Fiaz. There has been a weekly stall, marches, occupation of empty homes on the Carpenters Estate less than a mile away from Victoria Street. Residents have spoken in deputations to the Mayor in full council meetings and with the support of the Public Interest Law Centre there has been a formal complaint with testimonies of residents in Victoria Street. Shamefully, the council dragged its heels, replied a year later inadequately, and the ombudsman refused to take it further.

The Labour council promises much but delivers little. People are still facing evictions, labelled intentionally homeless, moved out of borough or out of London, away from family and support networks. Rokshana Fiaz came into power in 2018 promising to tackle homelessness and poverty – shame on the council for the conditions still facing families in 10 Victoria Street.

At the peak of the pandemic, Newham Council has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness, one out of every 24 people, the worse level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25.2% of dwellings. Newham has over 4,500 households in temporary accommodation and over 27,000 households on its housing waiting list. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.

There is resistance in Newham from all sorts of groups and campaigns and this includes Focus E15 campaign and the parents in 10 Victoria Street.

Focus E15 campaign has a clear message for Newham Labour Council – Victoria Street is no place for children! Rehouse residents now!

We will continue to organise together as collective action is what achieves the most and empowers us all. It is how we learn together and fight for a better future.

Join us on Saturday outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford from 12pm-2pm with residents from Victoria Street hostel to campaign for decent homes for all and to

Educate! Agitate! Organise!

Soon to be evicted -young person speaks out.

NO EVICTIONS!

Shelter is a basic human need!

Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 is a notorious temporary and emergency accommodation building owned and run by Newham Labour council.

Built as a young people’s foyer, it is not suitable for couples let alone families with children. 

Listen to the interview below of a young person who has spent all of his teenage years in Brimstone House. The toll on the parents and young person, now 18 years old, is huge, physically and emotionally. The pandemic years and lockdowns have made it even harder. 

This family is facing eviction – the bailiffs are coming on Thursday 10 February.

It’s too late to stop it says Newham Council.

It can’t be stopped say the lawyers.

Where do the family go?

Stand with Focus E15 campaign to say NO EVICTIONS.

Oppose and expose this cruel system that punishes the vulnerable and strips people of their dignity.

Newham Council advertises itself with the words People at the Heart of Everything We Do….

However 25.2% of all housing is overcrowded in Newham, well over the London average of 14.6% in social housing and 12.6% in the private rented sector. Newham Council has just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a Yes vote in the Carpenters Estate ballot on regeneration, which means a substantial number of council homes will be demolished.

Two million council houses have been lost through the Right to Buy policy since 1981 in Britain, and in the past decade only 147,000 ‘social rent’ houses have been built in England, while over 282,000 have been sold or demolished. Almost 2 million people are on the housing waiting list.

Publicly-owned housing on a mass scale is the only way to address the housing crisis and we will have to fight for it.

Listen to to the interview from a young person, describing life growing up in a hostel and the threat of being evicted :

Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway outside Wilko’s.

Watch as Focus E15 Campaign calls out estate ballot process

This morning, Sunday 23 January, Focus E15 campaigners and Carpenters Estate residents in Stratford, London were on the BBC Politics TV show, to bring further attention to the recent estate ballot process that took place on Carpenters Estate last month. Not only did Newham Council spend at least £350k to secure a ‘yes’ vote, but they tied temporary accommodation residents right to a secure tenancy to the ‘yes’ vote for demolition (of almost 60% of the estate!)

If the Mayor of Newham was really concerned with residents rights, then why move anyone into a council estate on a temporary contract? All the residents currently in temporary accommodation should be given secure council tenancies now! No demolition of the Carpenters Estate!

Focus E15 campaign will be back in Stratford this Saturday from 12pm-2pm on the Broadway outside Wilkos. If you support the campaign, please watch and share the video below.