Category Archives: personal story

Newham family do not know where they will sleep tomorrow night

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.

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Newham families are being sent to live in Bradford.

Newham housing department decided that a disabled mother of two made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ after she missed a housing appointment due to emergency hospitalisation – now the council and social services are trying to move this brave family out of London all the way to Bradford in the North of England!

Focus E15 campaign was approached by this family at our street stall in Stratford and is featuring her story on our blog post below – as one of the many examples of enforced social cleansing that we hear about. Please read on to understand the battle people are facing to be housed adequately in their communities.

A resident tells her story to Focus E15 campaign

I am a disabled mother with two children, who has been living in temporary accommodation since 2008. In 2015 my family was moved into a room in a hostel by the Homelessness Unit. Here we had to share a bathroom with other tenants, rendering my equipment necessary to assist me with my disabilities useless. The council did not take into consideration my disabilities when placing me here, and it’s been extremely hard trying to cope without the use of my equipment.

After repeatedly informing the council of my condition there was a lack of response  so I sought legal advice to assist me in finding somewhere more suitable for my family and my disability. Subsequently we were moved to a two-bedroom home in Newham.

After living in temporary two bedroom accommodation for three years, the council offered us accommodation out of London in Basildon, with a date to view the property. On the morning of the viewing I had a severe panic-attack and was hospitalised in Newham General Hospital, thus missing the appointment to view the property. My solicitor informed Newham Council that I would be unable to attend the viewing due to this hospitalisation. The council did not reschedule the viewing or even enquire about my health, instead they stopped paying my rent and said I made myself intentionally homeless!

In fact, I had no knowledge that the council stopped my rent until I received a knock on my door with an eviction letter from my private landlord. Newham Council had decided to withdraw me from their duty of care sighting I “refused” the property offered. The council came to this decision without taking into consideration my medical condition or the medical evidence with my GP or Newham General Hospital.

I sought legal action to challenge this accusation of intentional homelessness, but the court decided to vote in favour of the council. I feel this is very unjust as no evidence has been provided by the council  to show I have refused the property in Basildon.

Furthermore, in June 2017, prior to the eviction notice, the ceiling fell on top of me while I was asleep in bed – I was rushed into hospital by emergency services and have been left with serve long term injuries. I have informed the council and MP Stephen Timms however they have simply brushed this incident aside despite the injuries I sustained – we even sent pictures of the incident and injuries sustained to the council however no action was taken.

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Pictures showing the fallen in ceiling and subsequent rubble

Following Newham Council withdrawing their duty of care to find suitable accommodation for my children and I, social services have stepped in to put us in a temporary two bedroom flat at the top of 4 flights of stairs, with no lift, despite my severe mobility problems.

To my horror social services are now saying they have no other choice but to send me and my family to Bradford –this is over 230 miles away,  a place where I do not know anyone. All my support networks would disappear and my children would have to start life all over again. This would make us extremely isolated. This treatment by the council is very stressful and is causing serious effect on our health. I am currently undergoing therapy to try and help with this.

The process and the lack of evidence-based decision making by the council is affecting our basic human rights to have a secure home. We have not had a fair hearing with all evidence presented. Instead our position has been ignored and a decision has been made by the council to unilaterally withdraw their duty of care to my family. My family saw Sara’s story in the Newham Recorder and reached out to Focus E15 campaign.

Keep people in their communities near their support networks! No more social cleansing! Join us on the streets this Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford and organise with those facing eviction and social cleansing.

Housing Justice in the new Newham!

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Over the last four years Focus E15 campaign has constantly raised the issue of intentional homelessness and highlighted the vicious policies of Newham Labour Council under Robin Wales, the previous Mayor, who presided over policies whereby if a homeless family refused to be sent out of London and refused what they called a suitable offer, then they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and the council could discharge their duty to house them.

This frightening process is what happened to Sara and her two young children, one in school in Newham and one preschool age.  Sara has been working with Focus E15 campaign since December 2017 and has been determined to get housing justice. Sara has family, friends and support networks in Newham and has employment in Newham as well. Read the latest on this story by journalist Kate Belgrave who rightly asks, ‘when will Labour Councils get stuck in’?

Since December 2017, there have been phone calls to Newham council about Sara’s case, letters, protests, and visits to the housing office as well as challenges to the impending eviction that Sara and her children face and attempts at an appeal on the council’s decision. Now there is a court case in Central London on Thursday 26 July to see if Sara even has the right to appeal.

Meanwhile since the beginning of May, Newham has a new Labour mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and a relatively new Labour council. We ask the new mayor to support Sara and her children to be housed in Newham, for their long term health and well being.

We urge all supporters of Focus E15 campaign and campaigners for housing justice to join us at court to support Sara on Thursday 26 July. 10am at The County Court, Central London, R.C.J More Building, Royal Court, Strand, London WC2A 2LL 

Thank you for your support and solidarity. Please share this post if you can.
For more background information on Sara’s case, please have a look at the other blog pieces up on this site:

https://focuse15.org/2018/03/ 12/sara-made-intentionally- homeless-by-newham-council/

https://focuse15.org/2017/12/ 08/sara-and-her-children-must- stay-in-newham/

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Sara made ‘Intentionally Homeless’ by Newham Council

The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing  Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.

No such thing as intentional homelessness – Sara must stay in Newham

Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the end of his reign. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. This situation came about after a trigger democracy process which has forced Wales to accept a challenger for the first time. All Newham wards voted for someone to stand against him. Wales is running scared and after decades of vicious treatment of working class people in the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist leading a radical council. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Focus E15 Campaign has been working with Sara, a mother of two young children in Newham. Her story is outlined on the Focus E15 website here. Since she refused to be moved to Birmingham, Newham Council says she has made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ and has discharged their duty to house her.

On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stood with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign, alongside children and parents from Sara’s son’s school, Museum of Homelessness, Streets Kitchen and Newham Green Party,  as we challenged Robin Wales at the Mayoral Proceedings. This meeting is where Robin Wales rubber stamps anything he likes surrounded by his hand-picked cronies from the council. Usually an hour long, on 8 March Robin Wales looked shifty and nervous as the public gallery filled up and he raced through proceedings. After only 22 minutes he and his colleagues made a swift exit. They saw and they heard but not one stopped to look at the messages on the banners or placards nor listen to the speeches and chants from the gallery, as we demonstrated our solidarity with Sara. There is no such thing as intentional homelessness and Sara must be housed in Newham, near her family and support networks, in her community and where her children go to school.

With news of the protest spreading on social media, the local press took interest and Wales’ challenger Rokhsana Fiaz asked to meet with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign. Newham Council was forced to issue a statement defending their callous treatment of Sara and her children and standing by their decision to refuse her any further housing support.

The pressure is on, but we must all remember that Sara is just one of thousands of people and families who are facing social cleansing in Newham and at the hands of rotten Labour boroughs all around London. We must also be aware that replacing Robin Wales, while a huge victory after his years of abuse of working class people, migrants and the most vulnerable in our communities, will not solve the problems of capitalism. Rokhsana Fiaz says that housing is first of her top three priorities. It is up to us to hold her to account. Focus E15 Campaign has pledged to do this. Join us!

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Threatened with eviction when grieving: housing association turns its back on tenants

East Thames Housing Association in the limelight again….
Every week on the street stall Focus E15 campaigners meet people in housing need. We have recently met residents of  East Thames Housing association who are worried about being evicted. Focus E15 campaign have had extensive dealings with this housing association in the past because it was East Thames that wanted to evict young mothers,  when Newham council cut funding to the mother and baby unit in an East Thames managed hostel. These bullying and vicious threats  gave rise to the Focus E15 campaign  in 2013.

In December 2016, East Thames Housing Association joined forces with London&Quadrant Housing Association. Together they manage over 90,000 homes across Britain and pledge to build 100,000 new homes, 50% of which will be ‘affordable’ (we all know that that means 80% of market rent and this is not affordable). Their website states that they ‘combine [their] social purpose and commercial drive, investing all profits back into creating homes and neighbourhoods people can be proud of’. When you read the story below you are left to wonder what  their social purpose is and whose interests are being represented.

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Please read the story below which shows how East Thames Housing Association tenants are  treated. Be ready to join us in the coming weeks to challenge East Thames in their shocking treatment of this grieving family.

East Thames tenants speak out

We have lived at our East Thames home for over 20 years. Sadly, our dad, the sole tenant, passed away before the summer unexpectedly. In the aftermath of his death we have gone through the correct channels and reported the sad news to East Thames.

We applied for succession of the tenancy but this has been declined due to their policy.

It has taken East Thames over four months to tell us something that is policy. We now have 28 days to pack up over 20 years of memories, forcing us to deal with our fathers belongings whilst we are still grieving.

Receiving this result from the housing association felt like a kick in the teeth especially for our parents who are both deceased. They have been London&Quadrant and East Thames tenants since 1982. All parents work hard to keep a safe place for their children growing up and in their absence hope the family home can remain.

East Thames did not present us with any other alternatives for housing just the news that we must vacate.’

Focus E15 campaign believes that these tenants must stay in their long term family home! There is no need for the housing association to evict them. Join with us on the Focus E15 campaign street stall every Saturday from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos to discuss this case and make further plans for action.

Bring Abigail and her children back home to London!

Watch the videos, read the text below and support Focus E15 campaign in the renewed pressure and demands on Waltham Forest council to stop social cleansing to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City.  We  are demanding an end to Abigail’s isolation. 

In March 2014 Abigail approached Waltham Forest council to help find accommodation. Her previous landlord was about to evict her as she was pregnant and he didn’t want a baby in his property. Abigail was told by the council that they had found her emergency temporary accommodation, a one bedroom apartment, in Welwyn garden city.

When Abigail arrived at the new property, it was clear the accommodation was not suitable for her and her unborn daughter.  It wasn’t a one bedroom apartment as she was told, but a very small studio flat with a kitchenette, living room and bedroom all in the same room. The room had problems with damp, mould, cockroaches and dangerous faulty appliances (Abigail and her children have spent the last two winters with no working heating). Heavily pregnant when moving in, and then with a new-born baby and a pushchair soon after, the room Abigail was given was on the 3rdstory, and the block of accommodation has no lifts.

Watch the video as Abigail explains more about her situation:

Welwyn Garden City, where Abigail was placed, is over 20 miles and an expensive train ride away from Abigail’s family, community and place of work in Walthamstow.  Outrageously, this means Abigail has had to spend 80% of her wages on travel, whilst being separated from her support networks, and removed from the place she knows as home.

This year marks 3 years since Abigail’s placement in Welwyn Garden City- when she was initially moved she was told it would be a few month, maximum. She has been doing everything she can to move back home; speaking to councillors, housing officers, and continually bidding for suitable properties closer to her loved ones. But unfortunately, her attempts have been unsuccessful, and Waltham Forest Council are unwilling to help.

In September 2016, Abigail gave birth to her second beautiful daughter, who has recently been diagnosed as having Congenital Melanocytic Naevus (CMN), a type of birthmark. Unfortunately complications of CMN can include neurological problems in the brain or spinal cord and malignant melanoma. This means that the baby must attend regular check-ups with her doctor, and specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

With the recent diagnosing of Abigail’s second daughter’s condition, it has become even more urgent that she is brought back to London, back to her support networks, so her family and friends can support her and her daughters. Abigail will need help with childcare, family to attend appointments with her, and loved ones around to support her in stressful and scary times.

This family cannot get the support they need living miles away from their community, it is time they are brought back home. That is why Focus E15 campaign is supporting an online petition to demand Waltham Forest Council bring Abigail and her daughters back to London, and to provide this family with a safe and decent home. Please sign and share the petition across your networks:
https://www.change.org/p/waltham-forest-council-bring-abigail-and-her-kids-back-home

Thank you. Together we are stronger!

Why I am a Focus E15 campaigner

Janice Graham has been out campaigning with Focus E15 campaign on the streets of East London every Saturday for 3 years. On International women’s day 2017 she takes time to explain why:

I am a mother of 4 children and I have 11 grandchildren. I have lived in Newham most of my life, bringing up my family single handed.  I have just plodded along getting on with my life, not being interested in anything to do with politics: I always thought it was boring and couldn’t be bothered to listen to a load of old rubbish coming from politicians thinking they know everything.  This changed when Newham Labour Council’s policies of social cleansing started to affect me and my family.

My daughter Jasmin was moved into Focus E15 Hostel in Stratford in East London, when she was 7 months pregnant. The hostel was home to 100s of young people under the age of 25, all from different backgrounds and many of these young people were quite vulnerable.  The rooms were very small and damp, but at least I thought, my daughter has a roof over her head and hopefully she can move somewhere more suitable for bringing up a child soon. After all there were all those lovely brand new flats on the Olympic Village sitting empty.

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Janice, left, with her daughter Jasmin

How wrong could I be: in September 2013 Jasmin and all the other 29 mothers and mothers to be, received eviction notices and were told they would have to get out because the council’s funding stream to the mother and baby unit suddenly stopped.  It was scary because the Council  were moving people as far as Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester.  I went with my daughter and tried desperately to find something in the private rented sector, but each time we met landlords it was clear that they were not interested in housing single mothers on benefits.

I thought, this cannot happen, I am not letting Newham Council separate my family. My daughter is not going to live hundreds of miles away from me – I would never see my grandchild.  The insecurity was putting my daughter under so much stress.  I started to worry about all the other mothers from the hostel and wondered how they were coping; they must do something together.  I suggested to Jasmin that she should speak to the other mothers, knock on their doors and get some kind of petition going.  And that is exactly what they did. A campaign was formed, supported by other organised groups like the RCG, Feminist Fightback and many talented individuals offering campaigning experience and solidarity to the mothers.  I am very pleased to say that we stood up to Newham Council and made them listen and the mothers were all rehoused in London. A massive victory!

For more than 3 years now Focus E15 Campaign has been going strong. Every Saturday  we meet people on our street stall on the Broadway in Stratford who are going through similar housing problems, causing people much misery and stress. Why should people have to move away from their area so property developers can build sky high apartments that often stay empty?  The empty homes all over the country should be repopulated now.  There are even empty council homes in Stratford on the Carpenters Estate where homeless people could be rehoused.

My message to anyone and everyone is you can fight back, get together in numbers. Make demands, say what you want and keep on pushing until you get what you want.  I would never had dreamt in a million years that I would have been out on the street making a noise and fighting for what I now realise is our right.  You can do that too.  Stand up to the council bullies and fight back.

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Cockroaches march to Theori Housing offices as shutters come down on residents

On Friday 28 October, residents from Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City and residents of other Theori-run housing, supported by Focus E15 campaign, took their outrage and anger to Theori Housing Management offices in Leyton, Waltham Forest, east London to protest at appalling living conditions.

The demonstration highlights  the unfolding tragedy of London’s housing crisis and the fact that Labour-run Waltham Forest council continues to send vulnerable people out of the borough. Many single mothers and families with young children have been transported miles from their children’s schools, jobs, families and friends to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. The council uses companies such as Theori to facilitate this process.

Boundary House was originally built for single nurses, but is now home to displaced families crammed into tiny inappropriate, mouldy rooms, with cockroaches and other infestations.  The windows without child safety locks are a grave hazard for inquisitive toddlers and children are now miles from their schools. Assistant director of Housing, John Knight, who said that a degree of overcrowding was to be expected, recently concluded that Boundary House meets Waltham Forest council’s required standards and is happy to continue the relationship with Theori. Meanwhile people suffer.

So who are Theori? Theori Housing Management Ltd describe themselves as specialists in the property sector with a portfolio in excess of £500m and growing. Theori is used by at least 21 London councils.They have the gall to say on their website that ‘The team at Theori pride themselves on being specialists in the industry and therefore have an understanding of the factors that affect homeless families’. What an insult to the families displaced into Theori-run housing.The stress and isolation that comes from poor housing and social cleansing is causing a mental health crisis, with people forced into situations that are making them ill, as they are cut off from the support networks that keep them healthy.

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When the protest began, Theori locked its doors and hastily brought down the shutters in fear of those coming to tell their stories and in contempt for the residents of their properties who have just had enough of living in such unsuitable accommodation.

Closing the shutters did not shut out the protest and a lively demonstration spread out on the streets outside the locked office. It was colourful, noisy and militant with games for children and speakers on the mic helping passers-by to understand the issues. Protesters dressed up as cockroaches to illustrate the grim conditions residents are forced into. Home made placards got the message clearly across – Theori puts children’s lives at risk – horrible in Theori, horrible in practice  and Waltham Forest and Theori benefit from residents’ misery. One single mother, resident of Boundary House, told Focus E15 campaign that:

‘We are fed up, our phone calls and email ignored, our questions not answered and always told by Theori to contact the council and by the council to contact Theori. In Boundary House, nothing has been done to make the windows safe for toddlers and young children.’

Protesters stuck pictures of poor housing conditions to the front of the office and constructed a makeshift house of horrors on the street. The action was supported by   Haringey Housing group and the Revolutionary Communist group.

Stories of forced displacement by Boundary House residents ring alarm bell to the young mothers who lived in the Focus E15 hostel in the neighbouring borough of Newham and faced eviction themselves in 2013. The council told them they would be moved to Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings, into private-rented accommodation. The mothers of Focus E15 hostel stood together and said no to being sent away and the Focus E15 campaign began.

It is interesting to note that the day after the demonstration at Theori’s offices, Boundary House residents woke to the presence of Theori housing officers knocking on their doors asking if there are any problems. As one resident told them, ‘don’t ask, you know the problems, just do something about them!’

Stand together!
Expose the councils and the housing management companies!
Decent homes for all!
Stop social cleansing!
Repopulate the empty houses and stop demolishing council blocks!

Come to the next Focus E15 Campaign meeting on Saturday 5 November 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN to hear more about Boundary House, Newham council and all the campaign news.

 

Children forced to live in appalling conditions

On Monday 27th June 2016, Boundary House residents went to Waltham Forest council’s housing office, Cedar House, to fight back against the appalling conditions they have been forced to live in.

Boundary House is a block of one-bedroom flats of ‘temporary accommodation’ in Welwyn Garden City which is outside London. From there it is a long and expensive commute back to Walthamstow where most of its current residents are from. The distance and cost means that residents are isolated from their family, friends and support networks, with one mother of two being forced to quit her job in London, as she could no longer afford the commute.

The conditions there are terrible, with mould, cockroaches, overcrowding and dangerous faulty appliances. One resident, pregnant and living with her young daughter, had to survive the winter with no heating. Still today, their heating has not been fixed.

On the third floor of Boundary house there is a young mother living with her now four month old baby, who was delivered by C-section. As there are no lifts in the block of flats, and the block is not safe or secure enough to leave the pushchair down stairs, every time this mother wants to go out she must carry her baby in the pushchair up and down three flights of stairs. The strain of this has meant that she has not been able to fully heal from the operation.

Boundary House was not built with families in mind. Nonetheless, Waltham Forest council have been sending their constituents to this accommodation and have done nothing to ensure the properties are fit for purpose. When Boundary House residents tried to raise these issues to Waltham Forest council, they have received little, if any, responses to their letters, phone calls and emails.

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Boundary House residents prepare to march to the housing office

This is why on Monday 27th of June, Boundary House residents decided enough if enough. Supported by Focus E15, and others,  we marched on the housing office, as a united community to demand to speak to someone who could act upon our demands. When we arrived,  security tried to refuse us entrance into the office. But we did not stand for it and insisted to be let it. Once the security had conceded to our demands to enter, we were told the Director of housing would not be able meet us. We refused to accept this and told them we would not move until Boundary House residents were able to speak to someone in charge.

It did not take long for the council to concede, and we won a group meeting with the Director of Housing for Waltham Forest Council, whom some Boundary House residents have been trying to get in contact with for over two years. We were taken to a conference room, and every resident had the chance to tell their story, express their concerns, fears and frustrations, and to demand the Waltham Forest Council treat its residents with respect and dignity.

In the meeting, the Director of Housing agreed to listen to our demands, to investigate the appalling conditions of Boundary House, and to hold another meeting in the coming weeks to update Boundary House residents as to what actions they have taken improve from the current conditions. This is a small victory of Boundary House Residents.

The action has demonstrated that when we fight together, they cannot ignore us! We will continue to fight, to make sure that Waltham Forest council holds true to their words, and we will continue to demand that Waltham Forest council bring Boundary House residents back to London.

SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
Joins us on our street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway on Saturday from 12pm.

 

Sanctioned while waiting to be sanctioned

A core member of the Focus E15 Campaign, Sam Middleton, has been caught in the catch 22 system of benefit sanctions.  She and another member of the Focus E15 campaign Kate Belgrave, recently spent a day figuratively wandering through the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the Department of Work and Pensions.

By Kate Belgrave 

Yesterday, I spent god knows how long on the phone to the Department for Work and Pensions (a charged-for call, if you don’t mind), having the most ridiculous conversation that I (and probably anyone) has ever had with them.

Finish reading the  rest of Kate Belgrave’s post here

More from Kate Belgrave at www.katebelgrave.com