No to Newham’s social cleansing Defend the Focus E15 Mothers!

No to social cleansing! Keep us in London! are the demands of a militant group of young mothers and mothers-to-be in east London who face eviction from their homes in a mother and baby unit, part of a hostel for young people in Stratford.

Opened in 1996, the hostel, called Focus E15 Foyer, has 210 self-contained units for young people including 16 flats for young mothers. East Thames housing association runs five foyers in East London and Essex, housing about 600 young people in total, providing accommodation for people aged 16 to 24 at risk of being homeless. On the East Thames website, a foyer is described as ‘a place where young people can live and receive support to enable them to achieve their goals and move on to independent living’. The residents stay between six months and two years, access services to help them back into education or employment and ‘the aim is that we help them move on to independent living or back with their family’.

FRFI met five young women, two at the very end of their pregnancies and three with children under two years of age, who have lived between a few months and two years at Focus E15. They tell a very different story to the East Thames website. Little or no support is provided to get them to live independently. They live in cramped flats with money-eating electric meters and now face eviction. In September, they were served with eviction notices for 20 October (with a later date for those who have been there under six months). They have been told that the charity that funds the mother and baby section of the hostel has lost the contract, that the unit will be closing and the young mothers and mothers-to-be must go. Their accommodation will be used for other vulnerable groups.

East Thames prides itself on ‘Making a positive and lasting contribution to the neighbourhoods in which we work’ and aims to provide training, development and support with key working procedures supplemented by dedicated young parents’ support workers. Since the eviction notice, the key workers have cancelled their meetings with the young mothers who now have to fend for themselves.

They have been told that there are no council properties available and that they will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside London – Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester have all been mentioned. They are aware that if they refuse such an offer, they will be classed as making themselves intentionally homeless, and will face temporary accommodation with very little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council.

We spoke to Jasmin, Tresha, Keira, Sam, and Sarina who told us of a recent suicide of a young man in the main part of the hostel and said ‘this life is stressful, I understand why people take their lives. Even more stressful if we’re young. We want to work or study, we are not lazy, we don’t want to be on benefits forever, and we want to raise our children ourselves. Children need stability, moving is traumatic, for anyone, especially children.’ They are clear that they want to be accommodated in east London near their families and partners, as they said: ‘Our children need to know their grandparents, their cousins, their families.’

One of the young mothers has spent several weeks looking for private rented accommodation in the area, only to have any potential flat taken away once the landlord had an offer from someone in employment. They know that it takes three months for the rent to come through when you are on benefits and that it will be very unlikely that they will ever be prioritised in the private rented sector. Jasmin told us ‘I have stopped looking for places as I have been rejected so many times’. They are all dedicated mothers who want the best for their young children and fear the isolation and emotional trauma of being separated from their friends and families and their support networks, ‘you’re not tearing us apart from our families’ they told us, acknowledging that this is a very stressful time for all. They visited the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and were told that if they are offered somewhere to live, no matter where it is, there is nothing more that can be done to help them.

The young mothers are organising. ‘we are fighters’ they said. They have written a letter to Bridge House, the Housing Options Centre for Homelessness in the borough of Newham, but have received no reply and so now they are taking to the streets. With petitions and leaflets, they are telling people about their situation and gathering support. They are aware of the bigger picture of what is happening to the most vulnerable people in austerity Britain with the cuts to benefits, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the huge lack of council accommodation.

There’s no time to lose, we need your help. Join us on Saturdays from 12 midday outside Wilkinson’s on the Broadway at Stratford for a stall with an open mic and come to our public meeting on Saturday 12 October from 2-5pm at Ithaca House, 27 Romford Road, Stratford, London E15 4LJ.

Hannah Caller

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

 

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