Category Archives: single mothers

Ongoing housing injustice in Newham – house Rachel NOW!

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.

Picture from a banner by Andrew Cooper

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News from Focus E15 Campaign

Come to the campaign meeting this Saturday to make plans for 2019.
Saturday 8 December 2.30-4.30pm
Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN
Hear about the effects of poor housing and insecure conditions on children and young people. A young speaker, who has recently been supported by our campaign will talk about her experience of standing up for her right to be housed near to her school. A speaker from Housing and Mental Health Network provides the bigger context, and also hear report of research on anger and how this affects us in housing.
Plus more on the Labour council, the Carpenters Estate and plans for 2019….

RESIDENTS FROM BRIMSTONE HOUSE STAND TOGETHER

Residents of Brimstone House have maintained pressure on John Gray, Newham’s Cabinet representative for Housing, to hold him to his word that the conservatory within the building will be cleared out and returned to a children’s play area, and the locked park outside the building will finally be opened up for the children to play in.

It is grotesque to think of the unsuitable and cramped conditions that families with young children are being forced into in Brimstone House while the play areas are kept locked up.

Therefore, on 1 December, residents of Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign entered the opened park and the children played. Then we went to visist the conservatory in the building….. it was cleared out, but still boarded up and locked…. the next day however, the boarding had been taken down….this is a step forward and now it must stay  open and be filled  with toys and fun activities for the children.

Remember that Brimstone House is formerly Focus E15 hostel/foyer where the campaign started five years ago, when young mothers and pregnant women refused to be moved out of London.

Five years on, with a change in council and mayor, that fight is still going on, as families who refuse out of area housing are outrageously labelled intentionally homeless and face the real possibility of the council discharging their duty to house them, this is in the context of Newham as one of the poorest boroughs in London with worsening homelessness, overcrowding and social cleansing.

Read about this struggle here:
https://focuse15.org/2018/12/03/stuck-in-limbo-at-brimstone-house-newham/

And put it in the context of the ongoing revelations of financial mismanagement of immense proportions in the borough. Expose this rotten system….
https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/council-investment-properties-1-5804846

It is clear that unless we fight back and resist, more and more people will be forced into unsafe, overcrowded, slum accommodation or made homeless.
We must fight for a world where land is held as a common good and housing as a human right. Which is also why we are campaigning for every new home on the Carpenters Estate to be a council home at council rent.

Capitalism is theft!
Stand with Focus E15 campaign on the streets, in action and at the meeting this Saturday and join the resistance!

 

Stuck in limbo at Brimstone House, Newham.

A young mother has been living at Brimstone House Hostel in Newham for over a year. We wrote about her predicament of being labelled with ‘intentional homelessness’ in September. 3 months on she is finding it difficult to manage this uncertainty and insecurity. These are her words:

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.

Demands from Newham residents living in Brimstone house grow louder

Brimstone house in Stratford in Newham East London is the name of the former Focus E15 hostel. Conditions have changed very little since Robin Wales closed down the mother and baby unit there 5 years ago. Families are still living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, unsure of how long they will be left there and extremely worried about being evicted and being sent out of London altogether by Newham council. Focus E15 campaign believe that residents from Brimstone house need to be rehoused in their community close to their support networks and this is what residents are demanding.

The stressful eviction process should stop- however families must not be left in prison like conditions for years on end! Suitable accommodation must be found (even if that means the Council opening up empty properties in the borough) as big, bold solutions are urgently needed to provide Newham residents with long term housing.

Residents have come up with demands which were discussed and given to the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing at a significant meeting that took place at Stratford Town Hall on Saturday 27 October.

Immediate demands

  • Open the conservatory space in Brimstone House for communal use and open the locked children’s park next door.
  • Review the security procedures so that they protect the residents instead of punishing/hindering them
  • More washing machines should be provided at no extra cost to residents with an aim of creating a community run launderette with an attendant.

Below are wider demands (however residents would still like to see action on these before Christmas!):

  • No more evictions from Brimstone house until safe, suitable accommodation is found in Newham, like  Carpenters Estate
  • To recognise that everyone has the right to refuse accommodation outside of the borough without being labelled as ‘intentionally homeless’ (sic). End the use of this policy!
  • Stop threats from council workers to involve social services (i.e if you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ we will rehouse your children but not you).

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Housing should be seen a basic right in a rich country like ours.
Victory to Brimstone house residents in their fight for decent long term housing! 

Sara made ‘Intentionally Homeless’ by Newham Council

The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing  Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.

No such thing as intentional homelessness – Sara must stay in Newham

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!

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Positive community housing meeting held in East London

Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis

People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.

The meeting was proposed after hearing  issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council  no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children  – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.

This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of  her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge  any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:

https://www.katebelgrave.com/2018/02/intentionally-homeless-with-kids-council-will-house-the-kids-but-not-you-ie-youll-be-separated-from-them-the-hell-with-this/

The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London, 100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.

 

The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.

From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at http://libbyliburd.co.uk/index.html.

The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’   

A Newham resident speaks out.

A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:

I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.

I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.

My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.

I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.

I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.

Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness. 

The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.

I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.

We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents. 

Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved! 

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.