Category Archives: racism

Fours years on the street and the struggle goes on

Saturday 7 October was a busy day for Focus E15 campaign as we celebrate four years of campaigning for social housing and against social cleansing. 

On our lively weekly stall on the Broadway in Stratford, Focus E15 campaign was joined by members of the Renters Power Project and the London Renters Union, along with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Then we had our monthly campaign meeting (first Saturday of the month, 2.30-4.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN). The meeting had updates on people working with the campaign and their current housing situation, including the racism of detention and threatened deportation, the isolation of families socially cleansed from Newham when they run into local difficulties, and the threats of people being separated from their children in desperate housing situations despite Section 17 of the Children’s Act regarding keeping children and parents together.

During the campaign meeting we also discussed the following:

The debt crisis of Newham Council

It is clear that Newham council is mired in debt. Recent research from the Money Advice Service, shows that residents of Newham are the most likely to be overburdened with debt: one in four people – approximately 60,000 people in Newham are affected. News has also emerged in the hidden draft accounts (due to be signed off) that a ‘loan’ made to help transform the 2012 Olympic stadium into West Ham United’s new football ground is being written off.

Evidence is also emerging that Newham’s private rents are at a level higher than those set in the wealthy borough of Barnet. This cannot be unrelated to the fact that between 2012 and 2016 there was a 50% rise in people living  in temporary accommodation across London and for that same period there was a 100% rise in Newham.

All hands on board to defend the Carpenters Estate

The Carpenters was once a thriving estate in the heart of Stratford in Newham. It must be seen as a crime that over 400 homes on the estate have been left empty (some for as long as 10 years), because people were forced to move away in the run up to the Olympic Games in 2012. During this time the council has overseen the steady rundown of the estate. In August, Newham council published a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union calling for a private sector joint venture partner for the ‘redevelopment’ of the Carpenters Estate. Now the council wants to demolish 700 existing homes with more decanting and social cleansing and replace them with 3,000 new homes. We can predict that the council and their private sector partners will find a slippery way around the 35% so called ‘affordable’ homes target.  Focus E15 campaigner stated: we would not phrase this as progress, but as an increased push by the council to clear the estate of working class people’, and got this reply from Robin Wales: ‘we strongly refute that there is any kind of social cleansing taking place in Newham – it is an unfair and unfounded allegation.’

This is rich from a borough which continues to send many residents to whom it owes a statutory duty to house, out of borough and out of London. The procurement process for a private sector joint venture partner will close in Autumn 2018 and the preferred bidder will be chosen late 2018 with a view to starting work on the site in 2020. Focus E15 campaign, in the footsteps of CARP and the residents who blocked the previous attempted UCL take-over of Carpenters around the time of the Olympics, is working closely with residents in the areas of the estate already receiving letters and knocks on the door about enforced decanting. Many elderly residents who have been on the estate since the 1970s are clear that they will not be moved. Focus E15 campaign stands in solidarity with them and joins them in their resistance.

In light of this, we discussed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party conference, his pledge to tackle local Labour councils…. and discussed Robin Wales and Labour in Newham in that context. Below is an analysis by Architects for Social Housing on the Labour Party Conference and Jeremy Corbyn’s speech that makes an interesting read:

 https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/the-labour-party-conference-2017-housing-policy-and-estate-regeneration/

Everyone at the Focus E15 campaign meeting was also excited to hear extracts from a new paper by Paul Watt and would urge people to read it… this is the abstract:

Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East LondonA paper by Paul Watt of Birkbeck University

This paper assesses how gender, housing, austerity and the right to the city inter-relate with reference to female lone parents from East London, the site of the 2012 Olympic Games. In so doing, the paper draws upon qualitative research undertaken with lone parent mothers living in temporary accommodation. The women’s housing experiences are embedded within a deepening of neoliberal welfare cutbacks and restructuring under what Peck (2012) has called ‘austerity urbanism’. Although the mother’s lives are based in East London where they have extended family and where many of them grew up, they have either been moved, or face the prospect of being moved, out of the area and even beyond the city limits into suburban South East England. Rather than basking in the much trumpeted 2012 Games regeneration ‘legacy’, these women’s right to live in East London, close to their support networks, is being eroded.

The London Renters Union (www.londonrentersunion.org; renterspowerproject@gmail.com) spoke about their ideas and how they are planning to work in Newham, building a union that will stand with and for London’s private renters to fight for decent secure, affordable homes and build the power to transform our housing system.

We also heard about a political art exhibition called Longing and Belonging and we had an introduction to the local heritage project.

The Heritage Lottery Project – Discovering Stratford Village 1890-1990

Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 October 11am to 4pm

Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN.

An exhibition with photos and oral history researching the lives of past and present residents through archive research and oral history collection, covering streets bordered by Romford Road, West Ham Lane and Vicarage Lane. Charting and celebrating the economic and social history of the area and ensuring its heritage will not be forgotten.

We also heard about the Pavement, a free magazine for homeless people, and about the Economist Children’s Charity for 8 to 16 year olds and their six week project to help teach children about social housing issues with interviews and information being broadcast in 70 schools around the country.

MEANWHILE while some of us were in the meeting, other Focus E15 campaigners were giving talks including at Eyesore talks – London in limbo and celebrating with Clapton Ultras (www.claptonultras.org) to mark their fifth birthday. The club’s slogan is Sometimes anti-social! Always anti-fascist!  With this in mind Clapton Ultras have lent their support to help the revival of one of East London’s last remaining amateur clubs, the Clapton Football Club, currently members of the Essex Senior League, home at The Old Spotted Dog Ground. The games are fun, the crowd is lively, with international songs and chants and solidarity, and banners and flags to match. Campaigners enjoyed marking the occasion of 5 years of community led football.

Don’t miss out on our next meeting on Saturday November 4th. Join us to be part of raising consciousness, sharing information, debating, discussing and challenging Robin Wales and Newham Labour council….Take action to defend people’s rights to homes and safety. 

Join us – email focusE15london@gmail.com or find us every Saturday on The Broadway, London E15 from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s. 

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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