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
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!
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 Saturday12-2pm, 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
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.
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.
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?
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!
Focus E15 mothers demanded social housing not social cleansing!
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.
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.
Intimidation 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
Social cleansing – fight for decent housing for those sent to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City
Newham has sent families with young children to appalling overcrowded bedsits in Welwyn Garden City – read this piece by Kate Belgrave and come and support Elina, one of the last residents in Boundary House, fighting for her and her children’s right to decent accommodation near her support networks. Don’t let these families fight alone, make our disgust public. http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/02/the-one-where-the-council-officer-hangs-up-the-phone-on-a-homeless-woman/
Brimstone House / Focus E15 hostel, where Focus E15 campaign originated with the collective strength of the single mothers facing social cleansing, has East Thames Housing Association residents who were placed there originally by Newham Council as vulnerable young adults in need of supported living. Those remaining have now received threatening High Court letters about bailiffs. Newham cannot wash their hands of these young people and must house them locally. Join Focus E15 campaign to give them support and make our outrage known.
Cuts budget unanimously approved by Labour councillors
Having thought about all that – think of Robin Wales, mayor of Newham and his cuts budget.
On 22 February Newham Labour council met with a full public gallery of…16 people. After the handpicked 16 had entered the public gallery, the rest were put in the Lister Room with a screen to see the procedings. Very distorted sound meant difficulty understanding all the contributions. If it wasn’t for Councillor Clark who spoke of the housing crisis with rising temporary accommodation, unsutainable cost of temporary accommodation and the people moved out of borough and out of London, then housing would hardly have been mentioned by Labour Mayor Robin Wales. He spoke of his new proposal of ‘Fairer Rent’ due to come in, blamed the problems on the asuterity programme from our Tory government and promised that there would be no cuts in meaningful services, lots of money for improving roads, pavements and lighting and patted himself on the back saying he was ‘proud of this outstanding budget’. It was agreed unanimously by all the councillors present. Somehow they have reduced a £54m cuts to £37m cuts and all seemed happy with the plan to cut the back services without affecting frontline services (how?) and that Robin Wales will review anything that is brought to him.
Well we have to bring things to Robin Wales’ attention – the homelessness, those being sent out of Newham away from family, friends, schools and support networks, the vicious Housing Bill and the Immigration Bill and the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate that must be used immediately to house people in need.
Charlie is 20 years old and has been homeless for over 2 years and he has now been street homeless for 7 months. He is originally from Southend and became homeless after his mother told him to leave the family house and not come back.
Charlie has been sleeping in the doorway of Bridge House housing office in Stratford, as this is where he felt most safe at night. After a few weeks of seeing Charlie sleeping rough, the security guard brought someone from the housing office to see him. This housing officer told Charlie there was nothing that could be done to help him because he is not ‘priority need’ which was the same line he was fed in Southend. Bear in mind that Southend council spent millions on the new pier and Newham council have left 3 tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate virtually empty for several years.
However, a week later Charlie received good news: he was told by a housing officer at Bridge House that in fact they may be able to find him somewhere to live after all. They took his phone number and said they would be in touch. He immediately got his hopes up.
That was over 6 weeks ago now and Charlie has heard nothing since. He still remains on the streets of Newham and is just one of the growing number of rough sleepers in London: last year 7,000 people slept rough in London.
Focus E15 campaign met Charlie on our weekly street stall when he came to sign our petition and buy a social housing badge. It is unacceptable that a young man like Charlie remains vulnerable on the streets whilst at the same time thousands and thousands of homes in the capital lie empty.
“Homelessness is a devastating experience with significant impacts for an individual’s health and wellbeing. Mental and physical health problems can be caused or exacerbated by rough sleeping. Homelessness is also dangerous, with homeless people 13 times more likely to be a victim of crime than the general public. Shockingly, the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47 – 30 years younger than the national average.” St Mungo’s
Newham council must make sure our young people are safe and can move forward with their lives.
House Charlie now and stop making people homeless! Social Housing not Social Cleansing!
Last Saturday on our street stall we met another young mother in urgent housing need called Bianca Ford. The private landlord is selling her home in Chadwell Heath.
A court order has been issued and she has been given an eviction notice meaning that Bianca is now nervously waiting for the bailiffs to come knocking. Redbridge council have told her that she may be moved out of the area into Bed and Breakfast accommodation. She has to wait until she is homeless to find out, in about 4 weeks time.
Bianca Ford is an articulate young single mother who is 23 years old. She is responsible for two children. Her youngest child is only 9 months and her oldest child is 5 and is due to start back at the local primary school in September. Her 5 year old is registered as having a disability. Having a child with health needs is one of the reason why Bianca wants to retain links to the local area so that her child can keep receiving regular treatment from the physiotherapist. If she was moved to a different borough, Bianca has been told it could take up to 8 months for her child to start receiving treatment again. Such a long waiting time would be detrimental to her child’s development.
Bianco wants to see her children thrive, to settle, to have friends and be happy. She also wants them both to grow up with the love and guidance of her wider family who live in the area. Bianca is also responsible for helping out her mother who has epileptic fits and sometimes needs Bianca to look after her. Who will help her if Bianca is moved away?
Getting news that you are going to be evicted is distressing. When her landlord told her he was going to sell her home, Bianca’s world was turned upside down. We need long term, secure social housing so people can form networks of friendship and support. Bianca has already spent time in a B&B when she was pregnant and she does not want to return to living in temporary housing that is unsuitable for her children.
Bianca dreams about going to university, to get a job and to help children with disabilities. As a single mother of two children, how can she apply for a university place if she does not know where she is going to be living, or if she is being moved around constantly?
We urge Redbridge council to look carefully at the needs of this young family who have a child with a disability. They want to move forward with their lives in a positive way. Bianca’s child needs to remain in her school where she has completed her reception year and made friends.
Please consider emailing Redbridge Council to highlight this case and the urgency of this family’s situation.
Please be ready to stand with Bianca when the bailiffs come. We are asking people to go to the housing office in Redbridge to support Bianca and her children during her housing meeting. Stay tuned for more updates.
Demand social housing, not social cleansing!
Please be ready to stand with Bianca outside Redbridge Housing Office on Monday 12 October. Look out for further updates
Last Saturday we were approached at our street stall by a woman called Sharon who is living in the new Olympic ‘East village’. It is horrid to think that this new housing complex has been built on the site of one of Europe’s largest housing co-ops, known as Clays Lane,home to around 450 people. Clays Lane was compulsory purchased to make way for the 2012 London Olympics. Sharon use to live at Clays Lane and in a strange twist of fate, she was rehoused on the site of her former home 14 months ago.
This new housing in the Olympic village is managed by Triathlon Homes. Triathlon is a public/private partnership, boasting on its website that it provides over 1000 ‘affordable’ homes. However what this means is that it charges huge rent at 80% market rate and to top it all, in March 2015, Sharon’s rent was actually raised by a staggering 23%. Who on earth can afford such a massive hike? How much profit does this housing association need? When the market dictates housing policy, no one living in social housing is safe or secure.
In June this year, Sharon was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. She also lost some of her left vision in both eyes and was registered as visually impaired. Such life changing health conditions meant that Sharon’s life became more challenging and difficult. She lost her job. She is responsible for her son, a 13 year old boy who attends the local school. However Triathlon housing will not accommodate or allow for such changes of personal circumstances. Sharon has been told that she is not eligible to claim housing benefit for the type of housing provided by Triathlon in the Olympic village. It seems as if the housing association is conspiring with Newham Council to push out people on low incomes or those on benefits and to ‘socially cleanse’ the Olympic Village.
Sharon has been giving a notice to quit. However she wants to stay where she is. She does not want to be forced out of Newham and lose her connections with her friends or the hospital where she undergoes check ups and treatment for her condition. We urge Triathlon housing and all ‘social landlords’ to have a heart and to treat people as human beings that need stable shelter for themselves and their children. Sharon should not have to move again. Moving house when you are visually impaired can be difficult as it is hard to adjust to new surroundings. When children keep moving schools they can fall behind with their education and lose formative friendships. Let her son continue with his education at his local school.
This personal story illustrates why our campaign is demanding Social housing not social cleansing! Join us on our street stall on Saturday, 12pm -2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilkos.
Come to our March Against Evictions on September 19th, 12pm Stratford Park, West Ham Lane
Please consider asking Triathon to provide long term housing that people can truly afford. Let Sharon stay!