Focus E15 and Newham Council: The Lies and the Truth

The Focus E15 campaign has now been fighting for social housing in East London for over six months. The Newham Labour council has responded with lies and spin, attempting to cover up their attacks on the working class, and their absolute complicity with the project of cuts and austerity. Below we republish, with permission, an exchange from the Focus E15 Mothers Campaign Facebook page. Daniella, a supporter of the campaign had written to councillor Ellie Robinson, the executive member for Safeguarding and Community Affairs, and received the predictable slippery reponse. Below this Jasmin Stone, one of the mothers leading the campaign, explains the reality of the behaviour of Newham council and the East Thames housing association. FRFI/RCG continues to support and organise with the Focus E15 Campaign. Social housing not social cleansing!

THE LIES

(Daniella writes) I had contacted my local councillors after reading about "Every Newham child matters" and raised what is happening with E15. Here is the reply I got. Thought it might be useful for you to see:

Many thanks for your email and for taking the time to raise your concerns with us. I appreciate your concerns and as your local Councillor I wanted to just explain some of the background and the current situation in relation to the women from Focus E15.

East Thames manages Focus E15 as short term accommodation for young vulnerable people for a set period of time, usually between three months to a year. Residents are then expected to move on to live independently. It is not, nor has it ever been, a form of permanent or long term accommodation. Newham Council provides a range of housing related services (HRS). This is basic support aimed at helping people assessed as vulnerable to improve their quality of life and live independently.

In line with best practice and where appropriate, the council is moving towards a floating support service for vulnerable groups such as the young mothers living at Focus E15 with services delivered in their own home. This means we can prioritise support for those who need it most. As part of a review made necessary by deep cuts to the grant received from central Government, Newham Council has reduced funding for support services delivered through the Mother and Baby unit. This decision was made because a survey carried out last year showed all the young mothers in the unit were ready to move on to live independently (some with floating support) and could be accommodated via other housing options such as Choice Based Lettings and accommodation in the private rented sector.

East Thames issued Notices to Quit which would allow the mothers to access housing support from the council. The 31 young mothers and their children have been seen by Newham's Housing team to start the re-housing process. So far a third have accepted tenancies via Newham's housing department, and two have moved on through their own arrangements. It is worth noting that the majority of these offers are in Newham and all are in London. For another 8 - 9 there are potential offers of accommodation with a bespoke floating support package of Housing Related Support; this accommodation is being assessed to ensure suitability before being offered.

A third are outstanding and every effort is being made to find appropriate accommodation - we have allocated a dedicated Supply Officer to proactively contact Lettings Agents. As I am sure you appreciate in the current housing market and with the recent government welfare reforms this is a very difficult job. In order to accelerate the supply options, the council has contacted 130 letting agencies and 700 Landlords, who are accredited within Newham, and incentives to landlords have been increased.

The young parents have also been given the option of locating accommodation for themselves, with support of their key workers and have been issued with a letter of introduction to Landlords, which explains that the Council will enter into negotiations to secure an Assured Shorthold Tenancy for them.

East Thames has confirmed the women are not at immediate risk of eviction and the council has put transitional funding in place to support a number of people identified as the most vulnerable residents at Focus E15, which includes the young mothers. They can continue to live there until alternative accommodation is found.

I would be very happy to provide you with updates as they develop, and discuss further if you have more questions.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch again in the future.

Best wishes,

Ellie
Councillor Ellie Robinson I Forest Gate North
Executive Member for Safeguarding, and for Community Affairs - North, London Borough of Newham
4th Floor West Wing, Newham Dockside, 1000 Dockside Road, London, E16 2QU
07709786731 I @elliecrobinson


THE TRUTH

Thank you for emailing the councillor and showing us the reply Daniella.

Firstly I would like to say that the reply is very irritating as they are making things out as if all they have done is tried well that is completely wrong.

When moving into Focus E15 all mothers were told it is temporary accommodation for 6-8 months. We were happy with this as it meant that we would then be rehoused in permanent secure accommodation after the 8 months. Us mothers of Focus E15 are not fighting to stay at Focus, we hate it as it has such bad conditions and imprisons our children from their childhood. We are fighting to not be forced into either expensive private rents or sent out of London! Some mothers having been living at Focus E15 for up to 4 years! Now that is definitely wrong! We have not wanted to even stay at Focus E15 in the first place. It was a last resort before being on the street.

Talking about being vulnerable, now it’s amazing for a councillor to see us women as vulnerable as councillor Terry Paul stated to us that we are not vulnerable “people with mental illness or drug abuse are vulnerable not you”. Well yes, we are vulnerable and believe me if we are not now by sending us miles away around no one then yes of course we will be.

Reduced funding? The whole £41,000 that kept the mother and baby unit running was cut that means there will be no choice but to shut it down. £41,000 isn’t a lot of money according to Robin Wales “supporting people only cut £41,000”. So why cut it in the first place?

Yes East Thames did send us mothers notices to quit which literally scared the life out of all of us. The only way we all kept so strong was together supporting each other crying on one another’s shoulders when we were so depressed about where we were going to end up in life. Crying because we felt like we were failing as mothers when in reality we had no control over it what so ever! All of that for East Thames to just apologies about the mistake they made. Telling us they didn’t mean to send out the notices.

Every time we asked what happens on the day we are evicted. What if we can’t find something in time? We were simply told “I don’t know”. We were all so scared. We were not informed about anything at all just a date to leave by.

Until we made front page of the Newham Recorder we were all woken up by staff calling a meeting to inform us of what is happening next. We called agency after agency to find accommodation no one accepting the DSS payment. We tried. We had no power to secure ourselves tenancies with DSS payments.

Mothers have started to be rehoused in the past month. We are not just offered a property that is amazing and ideal for us as it is made out to be from these high up rich, big housed councilors, MPs etc. We are offered anything anywhere told to view it on the same day as finding out there is even a property there and have to make a decision in 2-3 hours. Oh and I forgot to say it isn’t really a decision it is literally take the property today and move in or choose to be intentionally homeless with your child. What kind of choice is that? Its true most of the mothers are being offered in London with only 12 months guarantee in private rents that we can't afford to go back to work in. This alone is only due to victory of our successful campaign.

The numbers quoted are also wrong - out of 31 mothers, 9 have been rehoused all in private 12 month contract rents. Some in 2 bedrooms, some in 1 - that is unfair. Most in London so far 2 other mothers were offered months ago and heard nothing. The rest are left not knowing what is going on at all.

So as we have said from day one we will not give up Newham council even though you have tried to spit up our campaign by targeting who is being moved out of Focus E15 going against your own order. We will keep fighting not only for us but everyone suffering from housing issues due to the lack of human care!

We want local social housing! We need local social housing! We will get local social housing!

Jasmin Stone, Focus E15 Campaign.