Category Archives: overcrowding

Hostel accommodation – harmful to families

At a meeting with families from Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign with the head of temporary accommodation in Newham, one of the mothers expressed what they are all going through, summarised in the powerful points below. This important piece of writing is going up on our website on 5 May. 

This is a very important day in the history of struggle in the east end, as it is the birthday of Sylvia Pankhurst, who was born in 1882, 139 years ago. Sylvia Pankhurst was a courageous fighter for human rights, for working class rights, an internationalist, a communist, an anti-racist and anti-fascist, an anti-imperialist. 100 years ago, in the east end of London, Sylvia Pankhurst was active on the streets, in the meeting rooms and organising to challenge the local council and the government about housing, healthcare, education…… 

The women of Brimstone House are continuing that fight for their rights and the rights of their children. Please read below and understand that the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst’s fight goes on and we can still win important and inspiring victories and be part of building resistance by the solidarity of collective action and class struggle.

Long Live Sylvia Pankhurst! All strength to the women and children of Brimstone House!

This is a summary of what it is like Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Newham, as expressed by the current residents:

  1. There is no welcoming process at Brimstone House and no information about how to complete relevant housing application forms in order to move on.
  1. It is not clear who the case worker is for individual families to discuss their applications or housing needs. When a case worker is finally assigned, it is near-impossible to get hold of them resulting in being bounced from one department to another, and having complaints/issues fall in between the cracks in the system.
  1. There are families living in Brimstone House for three years or more without a housing suitability assessment being completed and ongoing struggles to obtain bidding numbers. 
  1. The rent for studio rooms in Brimstone House is close to £800 per month, not including bills and council tax. A council home with two bedrooms, two storage units, a kitchen, a living/dining room, is about £500 a month.
  1. Single mothers are having to leave their work/jobs, to depend on benefits, because they are worse off working and becoming more impoverished by having to pay full rent. Universal Credit deducts 63 pence out of every £1 after the first £292.
  1. The studio flats in Brimstone House were designed for the purpose of a single person’s living accommodation, yet the council is now using them for families with three or more children, as well as partners. Families are forced to live, eat, share bunk beds/sofas, in the same living space. 
  1. It is shocking to think that anyone should be living in such squalid conditions in Britain, the fifth or sixth richest country in the world. Made worse by Newham’s slogan: ‘People at the heart of everything we do.’
  1. The flats have numerous hazards that also impact on life at Brimstone House, these include mould, bugs, rodents, and other pests (about which letters are frequently circulated). The other main hazard is the frequency with which the lift breaks down. Then single mothers, pregnant women, people with disabilities are seen carrying buggies, pushchairs, shopping, children up and down nine floors.
  1. The water boilers are often broken, faulty, or too small to provide what is needed in a British winter and often there is no answer to the request for plumbers to fix faulty showers. There are occasions when residents have been told to use buckets. Many flats have heaters that are not working, lighting is always faulty both in the corridors and the studio flats – and electricity bills are extortionate, often coming to more than £100 a month. The communal washing machine area is a health hazard with leaks and floods and inefficient machines which are known for recycling household filth.
  1. The bare flooring of wooden floors on many rooms are uneven and adults and children cannot go barefoot. Not being allowed to bring any furniture in means that families are forced to share bunkbeds and sleep on sofas, do not have enough chairs for everyone to even sit together to eat. Requests for more furniture are refused. 
  1. Children are the most affected by these living conditions, with an increase in skin allergies, eczema and respiratory infections and wheezy episodes. Their mental and physical wellbeing is compromised. There are children developing obesity because of their confined space. The restrictions being even more in the pandemic. Children’s toys and belongings often have to be left in the corridor as there is no storage space. This leaves parents in fear of possessions being thrown away as letters are circulated warning not to leave things there. 
  1. Children in Brimstone House have no space to study, to be free, and to form their own individual personalities in their own private space; Children are ashamed to have no bedroom or to say that they sleep with their mothers.
  1. The fire alarm goes off very frequently, sometimes daily at any time of day of nights. Children are dragged out again, having to negotiate flights of stairs, only to find out it is another false alarm. This causing huge anxiety. Security workers often have no knowledge how to pinpoint the fire alarm location. On 30 March 2021, an exit plan of the building in case of a fire was handed out.
  1. There are ongoing complaints about staff being disrespectful to residents and guests. Guests who are sometimes needed to look after someone who is ill or help with childcare, are often refused entry or there is the complication of an overnight form to be filled in and signed. This is supposed to be our home.

Newham Council! Brimstone House: No place for children

Watch as Newham mother is forced to study on cooker top

A mother living in a hostel is doing her best for her children by trying to keep up with her education. She wants to get ahead and move on with her life by studying, but the cramped living conditions make this difficult. She has to allow the children to play in one bit of the space and then is forced to learn and study in the tiny kitchen area by using the cooker as a work table. There is no other space available as she has two children – in a space that was originally designed for one single person. The hostel known as Brimstone House in 10 Victoria street in Stratford, Newham, is no place for a family to grow and learn.

Families have had to also endure months of living on top of each other throughout lockdown. It is claustrophobic. Why should she and her children be forced to live like this, in one of the richest countries in the world? Mothers have every right to be students and a decent society would ensure that everyone could access childcare and further education and fully contribute to society to the best of their abilities.

Watch and share the video below to understand how some are forced to live. We are demanding that Newham Council rehouse all the families in Brimstone house for the sake of the children’s future – they need to put down roots, to attend the same school, to become part of a neighborhood. Instead they are left at the mercy of the private rented sector, which often means short term tenancies, constant moving and overpriced accommodation. The families living in the hostel have had enough!

Video shows the cramped conditions of a hostel and how one mother is forced to study on top of her cooker

Come and help organise the campaign for decent housing in Newham by joining the regular street stall on Saturday’s from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway.

Newham council, give us a future! Give us a chance!

A banner describing the cramped living conditions on Brimstone House hostel, March 2021

Mothers unite to say rehouse all of us now!

Dear Newham Council, Newham Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Director of Housing Darren Levy, Head of Housing Shaban Mohammed and Labour MP Lyn Brown,

The residents of Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 need urgent rehousing.

As an emergency situation, it may be considered tolerable, as a living arrangement, it is cruel and punishing.

There is already a legal challenge underway but no action from Newham Labour council and now the residents are speaking out again.

We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.

This is how the Labour-run borough of Newham sees itself (https://www.newham.gov.uk/contact-information/vision-1)
‘Newham is a borough with a radical vision to build a better and brighter future. We are a diverse and aspirational place. By putting people at the heart of everything we do, we aim to enable all our residents to reach their potential and thrive.’

Tell that to the mothers struggling up flights of stairs with buggies and babies and toddlers and shopping as the lift is broken again. It is not possible and it is not safe.

Tell that to the mothers who are having to study overnight using their cookers as a table, because they don’t have room to sit in the main room, and don’t want to put on the light as the children are asleep.

Tell that to the mothers who are co-sleeping with one or two children and who have no privacy in front of their children, not appropriate, particular in front of boys.

Tell that to the families with exhausted parents and traumatised anxious children who have to be pulled out and rushed downstairs as the fire alarm in the building keeps going off.

Tell that to the families who can’t wash their clothes or their children’s clothes properly as there are not enough washing machines, they are substandard and very expensive.

Tell that to the families paying very high heating costs in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street with an electric key system that consumes large sums of money.

Tell that to the families who can’t all sit down to eat together because Newham Labour council doesn’t allow them more than two chairs in their room or flat.

Tell that to the families who feel dumped and abandoned in Brimstone House, with no knowledge of who their housing officer is, who have their emails unanswered, and who have no bidding numbers.

Tell that to the families who have been offered places out of borough and out of London, when their support networks, their work, their family and their children’s schools are in the borough.

Tell that to the families in the cramped and damp rooms with children who are forced to isolate during the pandemic.

Tell us all why the empty council homes on the Carpenters are not being used while a solution to that estate is being found. And what about all the other empty homes around the borough…

If Newham Labour council wants to be a radical council building a better future, then it must speak out and speak up and defend the rights of all its residents.

As Assata Shakur said:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to to win, we must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.

Thank you
from the families of Brimstone House, Victoria Street with full support of Focus E15 campaign

Move families out of Brimstone House NOW!

On Sunday 7 February, a mother of two in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15, could take it no more and shared very personal photos of her home to illustrate the contempt that Newham council has for families crammed into the shoddy, overcrowded, damp rooms in this building.

For two years, she has put up with damp, with mould, with inadequate and expensive heating appliances, with a cramped situation whereby she has to share a bed with her children, with no bedroom for her children to sleep in, no room to study for the older one now of school age, no privacy for her.

Then came the rain and in it came. Now the children’s books were ruined, now the mattress was all wet and all their bedding affected. She packed up the room into boxes and bags to safeguard what was left and she asked a family also living in similar conditions in the building if they could take her children overnight, which they kindly did. The next night, she found space on the kitchen floor to put the children down to sleep.

Being an active part of Focus E15 campaign, this brave, resilient mother put out the message to others. Tweeting Newham council got a response, she was contacted and there was a promise of a visit to see and sort out the problems….

But this mother of two is clear, you can sort out the leak but you cannot fix the endemic problems of Brimstone House. The only way to reverse the negligence of extended stays in this appalling living situation, is to move people out to decent homes. Until then, the huge toll on adults’ and children’s mental and physical health will continue.

Focus E15 campaign knows that there are empty homes around Newham, and shockingly, has to repeat again and again and again what everyone, including Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, knows only too well – there are over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate, deliberately left empty for well over a decade, less than a mile from Brimstone House.

Residents of Brimstone House have voiced their issues loud and clear over and over again. In a recent exchange, mothers of young children expressed some of the issues they are struggling with in Brimstone House, in lockdown and with extreme difficulty getting replies from housing officers now that Bridge House and other housing offices are shut.

The constant merry-go-round of temporary and emergency housing: ‘Moving again with my child….we have been living in a hotel, then a friend’s house and then various shared houses. It’s been a physically exhausting year living in London, we have been moved five times already.’

The lack of security: ‘It’s really hard to see a way out of this … and then the empty horrible threats that they will remove our children. All this is magnified by constant insecurity, knowing we’re at their mercy and they really can do what they want. If the council was someone’s partner, they would say it’s an abusive relationship.’

Being forced into tiny spaces in lockdown in a pandemic: ‘It’s so narrow and the ceiling is very low, I feel boxed in. You can see the end of my feet is where the TV is supposed to go, glued to our eyes!’

Knowing there are empty homes nearby: ‘There is no way they can possibly justify not opening the Carpenters Estate and many others during this pandemic, I hope at some point we see someone held accountable for purposely keeping houses shut whilst knowing that we have been having a housing crisis for many many years.’

Being at the mercy of a system riven by division and discrimination: ‘And they purposely trap us in the illusion of their ‘fair’ system. If we don’t have jobs, they call us lazy, when we do get a job or try to pursue our education, they make it nearly impossible…Unfortunately a lot of people are either dismissive or insensitive, they don’t actually see just how oppressing and soul destroying this system is.’

The women show their strength and resilience: ‘Persevering in adversity is one of the many life skills we are passing down to our kids simply by living the best we can in these situations…’

The conversation ends on a positive note: ‘All they want is to distract us and make our lives not meaningful, they do not want us to achieve our goals because they know we are coming back to fight. All we need is NOT to keep quiet,  we should continue to use our voice, and I believe with the support of Focus E15 campaign together we will  win, they will hear our voice!’

Together we will win, they will hear our voice!

Get families out of Brimstone House now!

Resist! Reclaim! Repopulate!

Use the empty homes!

Telling the truth about what has been said, expressing ourselves on the street stall.
Mould growing inside a bedroom in Brimstone House
Where the TV is meant to go, no space for children to grow inside the flats in Brimstone House

Our lives and our future: resistance has not gone away

As 2020 came to a close, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaign showed that
resistance to the callousness of the council has not gone away. We stood distanced and
Covid-aware outside the hostel with banners explaining what is happening to families in
the building. These are some of the issues that residents want you to be aware of: 

  • the family in such a small room that the television takes up the only window space
  • the mother of two children told by the council to put her three-year-old on a sofa as no room for a bed
  • the young boy who asks why he has no space to do his homework
  • the threat of eviction on 21 December of a family with two young children, told they have made themselves intentionally homeless – under campaign pressure that date has been changed to 4 January – but then what?

This is not an acceptable way to treat anyone and the campaign is ongoing.

Focus E15 continues to campaign closely with residents of Brimstone House. Mostly mothers and children, courageous in speaking up about their situation, on behalf of many more than just themselves, to highlight the outrageous situation of families forced to live, and isolate, in tiny, badly-ventilated, often mouldy and damp, overcrowded rooms with children.

On the streets at our weekly stall where we find out what is happening to people and their housing situations.

Newham has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness – one out of every 24 people, the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25% of homes, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation, currently 4,500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newham had the second worse Covid19 death rate in the country by June 2020.

Those raising the issues of Brimstone House, in temporary and emergency housing, are raising the issues of housing in the east London borough of Newham, and challenging the Labour council to start delivering rather than just promising. In this dire situation, there are still over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, These flats must be immediately refurbished and repopulated. We say to the council – stuff the constant consultation processes and get on with the work at hand and use those empty homes.

As we end 2020, Focus E15 campaign would like to thank all those who have taken part in campaigning for housing justice over this year and given time and energy to the campaign. This year has been very challenging, living through a pandemic, many people in the most difficult of situations, emotionally, practically and financially, struggling with inappropriate housing. Our thoughts go out to everyone, especially those grieving for friends and relatives who have died, and for Focus E15 campaign, we think of Ella and Chelsie, so central to our campaign and so missed.

The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to
build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.

Residents outside Brimstone House Hostel in Stratford as 2020 comes to a close

Give us space to live!

A mother and two children living in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15, has taken the brave step of speaking out about the unbearable conditions they are forced to live in. Focus E15 campaign stands with her and all those facing these issues.

Brimstone House is no place for children to grow up in, yet hundreds of families with children are languishing there in overcrowded rooms, labelled temporary accommodation, for years. Less than a mile down the road, four hundred council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate, and all around luxury apartments continue to be built. 

In October 2020, when Rukaya asked about the difficulty with the space and the bed provision as the baby is too big for the cot, she was told her three-year-old could sleep on the sofa. When she challenged this, the options included getting her a bigger, better sofa and/or putting some of their belongings into storage….

This is a shocking story, but not an isolated one. 

Newham’s Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said recently,  ‘The scale of the challenge has never been greater. But together with my cabinet, which I’m proud is one of the most diverse in the country, I am leading a hugely ambitious programme that sets out how we will improve residents’ lives now and well beyond the pandemic.’

Rokhsana Fiaz and her council have set out their housing policy. She said ‘We’ll continue prioritising housing delivery as we scale up our plans and meet promised targets. The housing strategy is another crucial milestone in our efforts to drive forward through all the instruments of the Council to deliver for local residents.’

In the tradition of Sylvia Pankhurst and the working class struggles of the east end of London and the East London Federation of Suffragettes, we say Deeds Not Words

This is an emergency, for Rukaya, her children and all of those in Brimstone House. 

Even more urgent in a pandemic and lockdown conditions, in Newham which has the biggest percentage of children living in poverty of any borough in London, 25% of residents living in overcrowded housing, and in the first few months of the pandemic suffered the highest death rate in London from Covid19.

Rukaya and her two children need Newham Council to deliver on housing now, a proper solution – decent long-term housing with space for children to grow and develop and for Rukaya to take her life off hold and continue to study, to work and to be active in her community. 

Together we are stronger!

Solidarity with all those fighting for housing justice!

There is no excuse while there are empty homes.

Resources for the people and not for the property developers!

ABANDONED BY NEWHAM

At the end of June and after lockdown restrictions eased, Focus E15 campaign went back out on the streets. At the weekly street stall we have met many people struggling with overcrowding living and poor quality housing – made much harder to sort out due to the pandemic and the closure of services. This stress has been compounded by the knowledge that Newham, a very diverse borough where over 70% of residents are Black, Asian and people of colour, is the borough with the second highest death rate in England from COVID19 . Many campaigners have been making the connection between poor housing, poor health and increased risk of illness.

The residents of Brimstone House are organising. Fed up of isolating with children in box rooms, with windows that don’t open in the sweltering heat wave and no answers from the council about what their housing future is, they are planning to take action. In addition to this one hostel block there are also thousands of other people in Newham struggling with housing in a borough where over 25% of people live in overcrowded situations. Try and explain to them why over 400 homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate and have done for years and years and years.

We know that if we organise together we are stronger and we have a voice.

In order to illustrate this please take a look at Mary’s story below. She has been trying for over a decade to sort out her living conditions, one of thousands of people who feel abandoned by Newham and for whom, having a new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, for the last two years, has changed nothing.

Mary and her 21 year-old son and 18 year-old daughter are living in a two bedroom council home. For over ten years, Mary has been trying to ensure that there is enough space for the children growing up who need separate bedrooms as stated in all guidance and legislation on sex of children and overcrowding. She has been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, it is in fact longer but the council lost her original application. She bids regularly, and she is on a council and private swap register.

Mary has been to see her local MP Lyn Brown, has been to see her councillor, has even been to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s surgery. Everyone listens but does nothing. She has told these elected representatives very personal details of her family’s history that explain the urgency of her situation. But still no action, no replies, no follow up.

During lockdown in the pandemic, this stressful situation has been magnified and relationships have become very strained. Mary, who sleeps in the living room anyway and hasn’t had a proper bed for years, is now also working from home. Her son also returned from university due to lockdown and has been trying to study from home. Mary explained that the physical and mental health strains are ‘exacerbated by the lack of space for everyone’.

Thank you Mary for getting involved with Focus E15 campaign and sharing your story. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Newham Labour Council must act to alleviate the housing injustice in the borough.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes were active 100 years ago in east London, but they remain totally relevant today. We echo their sentiments when we say that we need Deeds Not Words when we encounter the brick wall that Mary and others have come up against when dealing with the council. https://www.eastlondonsuffragettes.com/

Join us on the street outside Wilko’s every Saturday on the Broadway from 12-2pm and help educate, organise and mobilise for our right to long term housing that is safe and secure.

HOMES NOT HARASSMENT

Following the Chain of Power demonstration from Brimstone House hotel to Carpenters Estate on 27 June 2020, more people have come forward to tell their story and speak out. Alone our voices are often lost, but together we are stronger, louder and we are heard.

Below is an example of someone who wants to remain anonymous but who knows that her story is not an isolated one.

A woman and her young child have been in Brimstone House hostel for over a year. She was placed there by Newham council as she was homeless. Very little support from her caseworker despite repeated attempts by her to get in touch. She kept bidding for secure housing with no success. A new caseworker was suddenly assigned, who was aggressive and demeaning, saying that she had not done enough to find accommodation in the private-rented sector. Threatening conversations: if you refuse what the council deems to be a suitable offer, this can result in being labelled intentionally homeless, no more help for housing and possible referral to social services. This led to great feelings of anxiety as it is also implied that if not enough evidence of searching for accommodation, then the council may give up its duty to house her and her child.

Legal advice was taken, it is illegal to threaten the end of housing duty on basis that the search for private accommodation is inadequate. During this time however this woman had many feelings of insecurity at the thought of being sent out of London, away from support networks, family and friends. Feelings of being undermined as a parent. Huge negative mental health implications. Effect on physical health.

This is just one example of the 1000s and 1000s of others and THIS HAS TO STOP.

Focus E15 campaign says to Newham Labour Council:

Stop the harassment! House people decently! No more excuses, no more time wasting – open up the empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate now!

Why I displayed a resistance banner in my temporary accommodation (Brimstone House)


On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel  living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.

With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.

We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.

The least they can do is open them up.”

By Marsha from the Focus E15 campaign

RADIO INTERVIEW ON HOUSING DURING CORONAVIRUS

Listen to Focus E15 campaigner Egwolo being interviewed by Pete Day from ”NuSound Radio 92FM” here: http://radiopete.org/home/nusound-radio-92fm-140520-focus-e15/

https://radiopete.org/

TAKE ACTION ON MAYDAY TO DEMAND EMPTY HOMES ARE OPENED!

Following our online meeting with Moms 4 Housing, Focus E15 have decided to call for action on Friday 1st May, in the form of creating and displaying banners to demand that empty homes are opened because housing should be a human right.

Get creative and make your banner – walk down the street with it, hang it out a window, whatever you prefer. But make sure to take a picture and hashtag: #OpenEmptyHomes and #HousingIsAHumanRight

Our friends and comrades in the USA and around the world will also be doing action to highlight the same message. Follow Moms4Housing here: https://moms4housing.org/

Remember to check out the Moms4Housing meeting podcast: https://focuse15.org/2020/04/26/moms4housing-webinar-released/

Give solidarity, take action this Mayday!