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!
‘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.
Brimstone house residents in Newham are getting organised. They have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed by the Public Interest Law centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news.
Join us to discuss all the latest development with the complaint, now issued to every councillor in Newham at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 August from 2.30pm-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN.
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!
Three years ago, a homeless mother and her twin children, were placed by Newham Council in a privately rented house in East Ham. In August 2018, the owner sold the house and Racheal and her twins were told they would have to move out. Anxiously, they sought advice from East Ham housing office. What were they to do now?
Advice was not forthcoming despite the fact that the twins attend a local school in Stratford and Racheal is working in Newham. Racheal says has heard about people being shipped out of the borough for rehousing. She is scared that this will happen to her. The stress of losing everything, her home, her job, the children’s schools and all her friends and connections has been making her ill.
In September last year Racheal received the official notice to quit and she has subsequently been sent a court eviction notice for Monday 18 February 2019.
Racheal went with this information to Bridge House homelessness unit to seek advice, but without an appointment they wouldn’t even let her in the building to ask any questions to assess her options. She has no case worker. The only thing that Rachel was told is that she needs to pack up her stuff, put it all into storage (at her own expense) and on Monday 18 February she should present herself to Bridge House homelessness unit, as she and her children will indeed be homeless.
Leaving housing decision like this to the very last minute causes a huge amount of stress. It was the council that housed this family in the private rented sector and if this home is no longer available, it would seem logical that the council must rehouse this family as soon as possible and before 18 February. But, under the Localism Act, the council discharges its duty when placing people in the private rented sector. This means they won’t help when such a placement goes wrong. A new homelessness application must be submitted.
However under the Homelessness Prevention Act the council should intervene. It is the humane thing to do! We must also stress that every local option for housing must be investigated before the family face social cleansing and potential destitution outside of London.
Racheal has found support for her case and she has not given up!She has an appointment at Bridge house for Friday 15 February.
We demand that Newham Council, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and cabinet member for housing John Gray, act swiftly to remedy this situation and house Racheal and her children in Newham with their support networks, family and community, school and job.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!