‘If anything happens to me, it’s on Newham (council). I’ve told you my situation!’
A mother of two young children with a third on the way, shook the walls of Stratford Town Hall last Monday evening as she addressed the full Cabinet meeting of Newham Council and outlined her increasingly dangerous and unmanageable housing situation. She is due to give birth in little over a month.
Newham council left this expectant mother and her children stranded and isolated when they forced the family to move from temporary accommodation in Newham in Brimstone House to Southend on Sea by threatening her with ‘intentional homelessness’ if she did not accept an offer of accommodation out of London. She states:
‘’I cannot describe this as a choice, as a mother cannot choose to make their children ‘intentionally homeless’. So I was forced to accept this offer and have been in Southend-on-Sea since July 2018.”
She further explains that:
“The flat I am in is on the second floor and the building has no lift. I have to climb 30 stairs with my two young children, as well as my shopping and with my double buggy, in an advanced stage of pregnancy. I regularly injure myself because of this, and I fear that something worse could happen. I feel scared to leave my children in my flat (when I leave to go get my shopping & buggy from downstairs) as they are very young. This will become even more difficult after the birth of my 3rd child.
I have absolutely no support networks in Southend-on-Sea, and when I go into labour I worry that I have nobody who can stay at home with my young children. All my support networks are in Newham where I lived for 6 years.’’
After trying to contact Newham Council and getting little response, she reached out to Focus E15 Campaign as an ex-resident of Brimstone House and joined forces with current Brimstone House residents who have just submitted a legal complaint to Newham Council about the awful living conditions in the hostel.
However, a worrying development is that following her speech at the cabinet meeting, she was contacted by a housing officer in Newham the next day, and told that ‘she would have to be moved even further than Southend to find affordable housing’. This is threatening and abhorrent.
We call on the Mayor and the Council to immediately move this mother and her children back to Newham. She is asking for her right to be housed in her community for the long term benefit of her children. A pregnant mother should not be left to give birth alone or be cast out. She needs to be back in her community so that she can get the support she needs at this vulnerable time in her life just before she goes into labour. The issues of class, race and gender are present in this case and Newham have left her in a very precarious situation far away from all those she knows and trusts.
Focus E15 Campaign says:
Newham council bring this mother and her children back home to Newham!
Stop making women and children isolated, depressed and afraid.
Keep our communities together!
Social housing, not social cleansing!
Join us on the street stall this Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford, London E15.
Focus E15 Campaign is posting some of the powerful speeches that were given as part of the deputation to the full Newham council meeting on 15 July 2019. We salute all the residents from Brimstone house who stood together and spoke truth to power at Stratford Town Hall earlier this week, (a large formal venue and a meeting of the full council is an intimidating place to speak).
Dear Madame Mayor, we the current and former residents of Brimstone House have submitted a legal complaint detailing the appalling and unstable conditions of our accommodation. You have heard the testimonies of how the cramp, damp and inadequate ventilation has been a plague on the daily living of Brimstone’s residents. You have just listened to the adverse social and psychological impact such conditions are having on the children of Brimstone. You will also no doubt be aware of Focus E15’s efforts in campaigning for the repopulation of the otherwise habitable Carpenter’s Estate.
Madame Mayor we are here today not only as your constituents, but as mothers, fathers, and residents of a borough that has shaped our lives, to ask that you actively and swiftly take action to rectify the injustice that has been mete on Brimstone’s residents, and so many other families like ours throughout the borough. The Newham Council website talks about building a resilient community. Resilience is defined as the ability to return to the original form or readily recover. As an individual who has grown up in Newham I have seen a lot of changes, but none more so than when the 2012 Olympics announcement was made. In terms of housing, whole communities were shipped out of their homes to accommodate the Olympics. If the original inhabitants of a community are not there to enjoy the benefits of the so called legacy that the Olympics was meant to bring, how can Newham claim to have successfully left a legacy or built a resilient community?
In terms of personal resilience Newham talks about instilling in individuals the ability to respond to challenges and have good relationships. Yet there is an evident lack of either attributes when residents deal with council employees. When residents assert basic rights they are met with hostility, intimidation and are reminded that they are a blight on the council resources so any help given should be received with open arms and undying gratitude. Your council’s website, asserts that ‘every child matters’ and the council is ensuring that access to educational attainment is provided. I put it to you, Madame Mayor, that education begins at home. How can a child learn the social skills they need to interact with friends outside of school of they feel uncomfortable to invite them to their homes? How can children learn about personal boundaries if there are no doors to provide privacy to complete homework or escape family life? Would you, growing up with 3 brothers, have found the confidence to invite friends home if you knew they were coming to an open plan studio apartment with beds for settees?
Our purpose here is not recant past grievances with the council but to plead with all council members that our complaint isn’t pushed into the long-grass. Brimstone House residents have spent months, and years in our current situation and to ask us to wait patiently while another 228 homes are being built goes beyond the resilience required of any individual. The flats and homes standing empty on Carpenter’s 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. You and your fellow councillors have the power to change that and have tangible positive affect on the lives of your constituents at Brimstone House. Please enact our demands as listed in the legal complaint with immediate effect.
My name is Marsha and I am a resident at Brimstone House where I have been living for the past two years with my daughter. I am here today as one of the group of residents, part of this deputation to highlight the complaint compiled by us residents, PILC and Focus E15 campaign. We are representing BH residents, we are a collective of people standing up for our housing rights. The length of stay in BH is absolutely unaccceptable. The conditions at BH are unacceptable. The way we are treated is unacceptable. The place is damp, cramped, overcrowded and unhealthy.
Our children’s physical health and development is being deeply affected.
Our own mental health is suffering. We feel there a bullying and intimidating culture that we have been made a part of. I am speaking for myself and all the other residents of Brimstone House here today, that we are absolutely fed up with hearing how many people are on the housing waiting list. We know that there are empty council homes locally and around the borough. We see the majority of new homes built that are out of our reach. Where does this leave us as residents of Newham?
As we all know, having a decent home is the core to our lives. Having structure, having routines improves stability and maintains good health. We as residents of Brimstone House don’t have that, our children don’t have that. We live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you now, many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families. How do we cope as parents seeing our children being traumatised by the stress that we have to live through and being powerless to even help ourselves. This is not what Newham stands for.
ROMESA (age 12)
(written in note form)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
In my opinion, no one pays attention to kids who are young. The lack of freedom we have feels like being captured in a cage with an unbreakable lock. At the end of of the day, we are all the same and we have the same hearts. We don’t feel safe. How would you like it if you were in our situation? How would you like it if we did not listen to your voice and left you alone surrounded by the darkness of Brimestone House?
It is not only us, there are many more lives here, for example, disabled people, pregnant people, single parents. Small children have no space to crawl around when they are in their early stages of learning. Instead of making big flats in other buildings, allow our powerless hearts to be free. If you really are the council, help us all to gain freedom. You are the one with the power, not us.
Thank you for listening.
The very next day
Residents from Brimstone house are being called in for suitability assessments by the council and are being told that they have to accept their fate in the expensive private rented sector otherwise they are making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ meaning that the council will discharge their duty. As you can see from the issues outlined above by residents -the fight for decent secure housing is urgent. The council must open up the boarded up flats on Carpenters Estate and all other empty properties in the borough. We will be demonstrating for the right to housing in Newham at our regular street stall on Saturday 20 July outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm. Join us to plan the next actions with Brimstone House residents on the street stall.
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!
I am a single mother living in a bedsit for the last 15 months. I have been on a emotional roller-coaster back and forth with the council with still no solution in sight. When will all the emotional stress be over? Despite showing documented evidence of my connection with the local area, the Council does not take this into account and have made me two out-of-borough offers of accommodation which I have had to refuse due to medical reasons and the need for my local connections and support.
I then realised that the council’s ‘solution’ to this was to discharge their duty of care to me, a decision which would put me and my daughter out on the streets. I was told I had the right to a suitability review, which was kinda pointless because the council had already made the decision to end their duty of care even before the suitability request was reviewed.
After a week’s consideration, the review officer sent an email saying the review was unsuccessful (no surprises there). I feel that the review officer did not follow appropriate inquiries into my reasons regarding why I needed to stay living in Newham. He then made the decision that I had to leave the property at a particular date (that didn’t exist!) so after a few emails back and forth to clarify the actually day and date I had to leave, I was finally given a date of Wednesday 28th of November…
It was so heartbreaking to have to tell my daughter we are moving but not knowing where we are going – it makes me feel so bad as a mother the fact that I can’t find a decent, suitable and affordable home for my child to live an ordinary life like any normal family …three days prior to my eviction date the manager for the building called to say my eviction is on hold and she will be in touch over the next few weeks …but what does this really mean? I’m stuck in a limbo! At the moment I’m just not sure about what is going on with my case. I am really confused as to what this all means and I am not sure if I still have to leave, I just don’t know.
This mother attends college in Newham and has her child enrolled in a local Newham school. They need to be housed in their community. Say no to social cleansing!
Come and discuss how to take this case forward at our next public meeting on Saturday 8 December at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN 2.30pm.