Category Archives: personal story

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.

wp-1488959306558.jpg
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.

img_20170303_155325784.jpg

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

wp-1467227705659.jpg
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

Everyday people face evictions in Newham

Newham’s housing is a health risk
Newham is the most overcrowded borough in London with conditions for many residents increasingly best described as slum housing. In Olympic legacy Labour Newham, in the fifth richest country in the world, every day people face evictions, social cleansing and literally being dumped on the streets.  Below are just two examples of the consequences of what can happen when you remove social housing.

Jennifer is the mother of five children and a grandmother. On Wednesday 8 June she will be at Bridge House homelessness Unit in Stratford, east London in the borough of Newham. Jennifer is about to be made homeless for the second time in nine months. She has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years, shunted from pillar to post, and in this last home, didn’t even totally unpack when she moved in nine months ago because she didn’t think it would last. She is right, a housing association put her in private rented accommodation and now the landlord says no more, possession order has come, meeting at Bridge House and all the usual emotions of fear, insecurity, shame, powerlessness. What will Jennifer tell her son who is on the autistic spectrum and is just settling in yet another home, when they have to move again, what of her son doing GCSEs and anxious about his exams. These are the issues facing her again.

Focus E15 campaign is supporting Jennifer in her request for long term stable housing in Newham. Housing Justice for Jennifer!

wp-1465334481677.jpg
Jennifer, second from the right joins the Focus E15 street stall

On Saturday 4 June, Focus E15 campaign held its monthly public meeting. The theme was Housing is a Mental Health Issue. A speaker from Psychologists Against Austerity spoke of the direct and indirect effect of poor housing and overcrowding on our physical and mental health. At the end of the meeting we met Beverley, a resident of Focus E15 building, or Brimstone House as Newham Council would like it now to be known, who is facing eviction. She has physical and mental health needs.  On Tuesday 7 June, Beverley was told to leave Brimstone House. When they  first placed her in Brimstone House, Newham Council said it was interim accommodation while a decision was made on whether to provide her with housing. Her dog, vital to help her maintain her health, was not allowed in the room and Beverley had to give her dog away causing her great anguish. The council assessed her as ‘homeless and eligible but not priority need’. She has now had her Housing Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) stopped. On Wednesday 8 June they will come to evict her and with no duty to house her, Beverley will be on the streets.

When Robin Wales announced in April that Newham Council had bought Focus E15 hostel, Brimstone House, from East Thames Housing Association, he said: ‘We cannot turn down this unique opportunity which makes both financial sense at the same time as helping some of our most vulnerable residents.’ So tell us Robin Wales, Labour Mayor of Newham, how throwing vulnerable people out onto the streets with their belongings is helpful?

On Thursday 16 June, at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, Newham Labour Council is up for an award for the best trading standards and environmental health and has been nominated in the best environmental health category. What a slap in the face for the Newham residents who know the reality.

Expose the shameful actions of this Labour council.  No one should be indefinitely in temporary accommodation! No one should be out on the streets!

Repopulate the Carpenters Estate where over 400 homes in Stratford lie empty.

Join Focus E15 campaign weekly stall every Saturday 12-2pm, on The Broadway, E15 outside Wilko’s.

Join the protest at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards  where both Newham and Lambeth are due to receive awards:
Thursday 16 June 6.30pm
Hilton Hotel London W1K 1BE  

Social housing not social cleansing!

wp-1465334531745.jpg
Living  out of bags at Focus E15 hostel – awaiting eviction.

 

 

 

More Focus Mothers contact the campaign

Another one of the original mothers contacted the campaign to give her story of what really happened during the time she was served an eviction notice whilst living at Focus E15 hostel. She wishes to remain anonymous.

Q1: How did Newham council support you while you were living in and being evicted from Focus E15, nearly 3 years ago?

Personally I feel like there was no support from Newham council. We were initially given a list of landlords and we were told to find our own accommodation. We all were desperately calling and trying to find somewhere to live but we had no luck. Then out of nowhere I heard we were getting moved out of London,  this is when all the panic set in.

Not once did Newham council contact me or had meetings to explain what they were planning on doing – they basically left it up to the support workers at Focus hostel, and sometimes they couldn’t even give us answers.

Q2 This is a quote from Newham councils comment on our website; ” The council, working closely with East Thames, has gone above and beyond to help find suitable accommodation for all the supported young people … Many found move on accommodation of their own while East Thames and the council helped many more.”  Is this accurate and how does it make you feel?

As for helping us find suitable accommodation- trying to send us away from our families and friends is not ‘helping’. If we didn’t come together as mothers and if we didn’t fight -only God knows where we would be right now. 

wp-1463520213967.jpg

Q3: Do you know of any residents that were socially cleansed or made homeless from Focus E15?

We were told to move out of London. The few who moved out of London – I’m sure they regret it and I believe the only reason they took the offer was because they felt they had no choice and others just wanted to get out of Focus ASAP, some might even regret moving so far away but the rest of us had to fight to stay in Newham/London with our families.

Q4: Where do you think you will be living in a years time?

Who knows where I will be in a year. Anything can happen from now until then.

Focus E15 campaign will be publishing more interviews with the original Focus E15 mothers over the next 10 days.

Social Housing! Not Social Cleansing!

 

Voices of Focus E15 mums nearly 3 years on

The Focus E15 campaign has been catching up with some ex residents from Focus E15 hostel, asking them how they feel about Newham councils recent comment on a previous blog post on this website. In this comment, the council claim that they have “ gone above and beyond to help find suitable accommodation for all the supported young people living in the foyer (Focus E15 hostel)“.

The first to be interviewed about this statement is  Keira Josephs, a mother & ex Focus E15 resident.

Q1: How did Newham council support you while you were living in and being evicted from Focus E15 hostel, nearly 3 years ago? 
They didn’t support me at all. If it weren’t for the mothers of Focus E15 coming together and starting a petition we would have ended up out of London. Even when we came together they were still messing around with some of us. I was first offered a place in the olympic village which I was eligible for as I was a student and entitled to a two bed, but they withdrew the offer with out reason and then offered me a property in Birmingham which I refused as it was too far away from my support system.
Q2: This is a quote from Newham councils statement; “The council, working closely with East Thames, has gone above and beyond to help find suitable accommodation for all the supported young people living in the foyer. Many found move on accommodation of their own while East Thames and the council helped many more.”  Is this accurate and how does it make you feel? 
No this is not true and this statement makes me very disheartened and concerned as to who they actually did help. If they really supported the mothers and babies they would have made sure we got council properties.Instead most of us were thrown into private accommodation – which isn’t affordable – if we did want to go into full time work.
 
We were not and still are not mothers who want to sit and claim benefits. These are young mothers who are still pushing and trying to make something of themselves – for their children’s sake so why not give us that extra stepping stone?
 
I’ve been in this accommodation for two years now. Newham council removed me off the bidding register which I had been on since I was 17 and I still have another year before I can register to go onto Barking and Dagenham’s bidding register. I was getting to the top of the list and they just took me off just like that! So yet again I say, if they were helping and “going beyond”, why am I in this two bed, not under any borough, just living in accommodation that is priced at £1000 a month? Does this sound like suitable accommodation for a single mother of three who doesn’t receive financial support from her family?
wp-1463432103135.jpg
Kiera, campaigning to stay near her support networks October 2013
Q3: Do you know of any residents that were socially cleansed or made homeless from Focus E15?
Not everyone that wanted to stay in London found a place, in fact some people were being moved out of London discreetly before we began the petition. Another girl –  a mother and baby (but living in the actual block instead of being moved to the mother and baby unit), she only got a place in London because luckily her father was able to help put down a deposit for rent.
 
I’m not sure if any one was made homeless, but we would have been – had we not put together the petition and started campaigning. The council were not willing to find us anywhere within London and that was being told to us over and over so I will not stand for them taking credit for something which they played no part in!
Q4: Where do you think you will be living next year?
 I’m already closer to Essex a place I didn’t desire to go. At this rate I may not even live in England in the next year! They’re not expanding and investing in the community for the people of the communities sake: it’s for the sake of tourists and money!
 wp-1463432041366.jpg                          Focus E15 mothers demanded social housing not social cleansing!

Focus E15 hostel residents speak out again

Poor conditions and evictions continue to plague Focus E15 building, despite what Newham Council says.

Focus E15 building has been bought by Newham council and Newham Council’s media team have responded with a comment to Sam and Jasmin’s post about this purchase. In this comment (only posted on the Campaign’s website) the council tries to negate all the reasons why the mothers from Focus E15 hostel had to fight for their right to stay in the city in 2013 when Newham Council were evicting people out of London. It was this, alongside hastily revoked eviction letters from East Thames Housing Association, which was the spark that lit the Focus E15 Campaign for decent housing for all.

After the campaign occupied empty flats on the Carpenters Estate in 2014 to highlight the outrage of hundreds of available homes left empty for years, Robin Wales was forced to make an apology in the Guardian newspaper for the way the mothers were treated. Two years on, Newham Council has said that it has bought Focus E15 building ‘to provide homes for those who need them most’.

However  the Campaign has recently spoken to residents who say that some continue to be threatened with eviction whilst others are stuck in the squalid, cramped, inappropriate rooms of the Focus E15 building. People with complex mental health issues who have been shunted around by Newham council for years are facing an uncertain future.

As one resident who spoke to the campaign said:

“I should be living. This is not living. This is just existing… That is Newham Council for you. They’ve destroyed my life.”

Help support the residents of Focus E15 building who are speaking out.

Come to our campaign meeting, Saturday 7 May, 2.30-4.30pm, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road E15 4DN.

Decent secure housing for all!    Stop evictions!      Stop social cleansing!

 

Young people like Charlie forced to live on the streets as housing crisis escalates

Newham Labour Council – where can Charlie live now?

On a Saturday afternoon in February 2016, a young man called Charlie approached the Focus E15 campaign stall, drawn to the campaign’s message of decent housing for all.  Charlie has been street homeless for some years. He approached the stall because he wanted to show his solidarity with the campaign and was keen to buy a social housing not social cleansing badge.  Since then, Charlie has become a regular on our street stall, getting to know the campaigners and gaining the confidence to attend his first ever public demonstration which was against the Housing and Planning Bill last month. There he joined in with thousands of others demanding housing justice for all. He took the microphone during the march and could be heard telling the politicians  implementing the pernicious bill to  “stick it!”

Focus E15 campaign supports Charlie in his demand to be housed. He can not move forward with his life living rough on the streets because he is stuck in a cycle of despair and anxiety. It is young people like Charlie that are the group now most at risk of living in poverty. Nearly half of people living in homeless accommodation services are aged between 16- 24. Not getting the vital support they need at this crucial time in their lives has a damaging impact on employment, education, health and well being, and, they are also likely to experience homelessness at an older age (Homeless Link 2015).

The campaign was outraged to learn that on 22 March, in the early hours of the morning, Charlie, whilst sleeping rough, received a visit from several officials, two of which were from Newham council. He was handed  a ‘rough sleeping warning notice’. He was told to immediately move on due to his ‘anti-social behaviour of sleeping’ and bedding down in the ‘wrong location’.  Charlie felt intimidated. A warning notice stated that in order to avoid receiving a Community Protection Notice Charlie should  leave the place they found him – within five minutes of being told. Furthermore it was stated that he should  not return and not  bed down  on any land or empty building in the borough of Newham. Charlie was worried. He was was then told that if he does not comply, he will be fined and if he does not pay the fine he will go to court and get a bigger fine.

charlies warningIntimidation of vulnerable young people is not acceptable. Charlie has to sleep somewhere. Sleeping and having a stable home is a human need and a human right! This is why  ‘market forces’ should not be left to dictate housing  planning and allocation – because housing is a  vital public resource. Homes like those on the Carpenters Estate should not be left empty in the midst of a  housing crisis. Newham Council has a duty  to help Charlie and the rising number of rough sleepers in the borough.

While our lawyers get to work on this warning letter, we appeal to Newham Labour council to find a solution for Charlie as soon as possible because his situation is desperate.

Repopulate the Carpenters Estate in Stratford! Let  young men like Charlie live!  He needs a chance and he needs a home! 

Please share this story and tweet at Newhamlondon to raise awareness of street homelessness