Category Archives: racism

Police station targeted by housing activists

Congratulations to the ‘Balcony 4’ and Focus E15 campaigners  who successfully dropped banners from a disused, sold off and boarded-up police station in East Ham on Sunday 10 July 2016, to highlight the current crisis in housing.  This action took place during the Mayor’s Newham Show (will he call it the Robin Wales Show next year?!) – which is a two day council-sponsored event that takes place in a local park in East Ham.  Focus E15 campaign was determined to let people know what is really happening in the Labour controlled borough of Newham where Mayor Robin Wales is still at the helm. As the Mayor’s show took place, this action unfolded.

The background  story is that the campaign has protested during the mayor’s show over the last two years. In 2014, Robin Wales over-reacted to young mothers talking about rights to housing  during the show and a complaint was lodged against him. He faced the Newham Standards Committee and was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct (watch from 1.45: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk). Then in 2015, the council ordered private security to stop campaigners handing out leaflets during the Mayor’s show and had campaigners forcibly removed from the park in a heavy handed manner. (http://youtu.be/SpbnD9RzuQ0).

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During the Mayor’s show this year, one of Newham’s many empty buildings became a target.  Three large banners were unfurled from the balconies of a boarded up police station as a crowd gathered down below. The banners read “Newham – hundreds of empty homes“; “Room for everyone, No room for Racism“; “Stop social cleansing, keep us in London“.  Campaigners from the Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, The Green Party, Sisters Uncut, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and passers-by took to the mic to express their disgust at the amount of properties left empty by Newham council and demanded the reopening of the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Many drivers hooted in support and passers-by joined in the protest and gave out leaflets.  One campaigner explained:

“…If they leave buildings empty like this police station – we will use them to make a political point. The housing crisis is driving people to despair and there should be no empty buildings whilst people are left to rot on our streets. We are also fed up of politicians blaming migrants for the housing shortage – it is just a dangerous lie -which is why one of our banners says – No Room for Racism…”

Whilst Robin Wales and his entourage were swanning around the park, the reality for thousands of people living in Newham is increased insecurity: rents are always rising, council homes are  being sold off and more people are living in overcrowded, appalling temporary accommodation. 35% of Newham residents earn below the London Living Wage, yet the mayor has a salary of £80,000 and last year the same amount again was spent on his expenses. 

Hundreds of messages of support for the temporary occupation of the police station’s balconies came flooding into the campaign. The Balcony 4 came down at end of the protest to applause and loud cheers from everyone on the ground.

Focus E15 campaign would like to say a big thank you  to all those who supported this action, with  your presence, your cameras and your voices, and to the speakers from East End Sisters Uncut, Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and Newham Green Party. Another successful action, working together and challenging Newham Labour Council!

The campaign  would also like to send our solidarity and congratulations to East End Sisters Uncut for their current occupation of empty council homes in Hackney as they highlight the cuts to services for domestic violence and the closure of refuges. Please support their occupation over the coming days and weeks.

Focus E15 campaign’s next public meeting is on Saturday 2nd August 2016 at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN, to discuss ways forward for the campaign. Join us at 2.30pm

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Refugee left on the streets by Newham Council + racist private landlords. Who can help Ibrahim now?

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Last Saturday on our street stall we met a refugee called Ibrahim. He wanted to tell us his story. This is what he said:

When I first got to London I was put into home office accommodation called NASS which is based in Newham. I stayed there from September 2014 – April 2015 whilst the Home Office decided if they would give me refugee status.  Once this status was granted, I was given 28 days to leave, open a bank account, find a home, etc. It took me a long time to open a bank account even though I had all the official documents and support from the Refugee Council.  This meant I could not get any benefits, so I was alone without money, without a job, no national insurance number and no roof over my head.

The Refugee Council gave me an official letter stating that I was completely homeless, and with this I went to Newham Council who told me to come back at 9 am the next day.  I made sure I slept rough close by that night, so I was first in line at the housing office in the morning, and I started queuing at 7am.  When they met me, they got me a translator and took down my story.  They took my contact details, gave me a ‘Housing Options’ letter which listed 3 hostels, and said they would be in touch.  I went to the hostels straight away, but they had no space for me, so I waited for the phone call from the council.

After 2 weeks, I wondered why no one had rang me.  It turns out at the previous meeting, the council had written my phone number down wrong. No one apologised to me for this.  They gave me another letter, but there was no translator present this time so I didn’t understand what it meant – my friend read it for me later and it said they acknowledged that I was street homeless, but that they would not offer me housing.  They told me to look for private accommodation.

My friend phoned one of the hostels up a few weeks ago on my behalf, and they said they had been trying to get in touch with me as a space had opened there, but because the council had not corrected the wrong phone number on their system, I never got the message.  I was told by the hostel that  if my friend hadn’t rang up that day I would be completely off their records.

I try to look for private accommodation, but it is a struggle as deposits are very high and many landlords don’t take DSS.  I got close to getting a room once but they heard my voice, and because I have trouble speaking English, they refused to go any further. To get private accommodation I have to save for a deposit, but it is hard to get a job when you are sleeping on the streets and have no address – people don’t employ you.  I also have to get an English speaking friend who has a ‘good accent’ to phone landlords, as they don’t accept me when I phone.

 I have now been street homeless for 5 months, with no end in sight.  I try and sleep during the day in a park near the Olympic stadium, and keep awake all night for safety.  When it rains I sleep in the police station.  I walk very far each day. I have to get to my college course and to work training courses.  I have no income aside from money the Refugee Council can afford to give me from their petty cash – sometimes £10 a week, sometimes £20.  I struggle as I have to top my phone up a lot to call landlords, so don’t eat much.  I try to stay clean and well dressed to get a job, and wash in the local Mosque, which they allow as I am Muslim.

Focus E15 campaign stands with Ibrahim in his fight for housing. Many refugees face escalated difficulties and racism and get very little support from anyone. Currently Ibrahim sleeps on the streets near the Olympic Park whilst homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate, and many other places around London.  It is unacceptable for any Council to fail to support the most vulnerable in their borough, including refugees.
Ibrahim’s  words were translated for us by the Asylum Clinic, who we met with Ibrahim whilst they passed our stall, after getting basic supplies for their clinic to help Refugees.
 
Please share Ibrahim’s story on Facebook and twitter. Tweet and demand action from Newham Labour Council @newhamlondon