- Created: Wednesday, 08 June 2016 09:52
- Written by FRFI
At the end of April, Newham Labour Council in east London announced it had purchased the Focus E15 hostel from the East Thames Housing Group for an undisclosed sum. In an article in the Newham Recorder, Labour Mayor Robin Wales stressed that the council had taken this step solely in the interests of ‘helping Newham’s most vulnerable residents’ and avoiding the ‘significant risk’ of the building being ‘lost to private developers’. The RCG and all of us working in the Focus E15 campaign are well used to this kind of hypocrisy, after nearly three years of fighting for social housing in the borough, but this was breathtaking.
Not only has Newham already handed over huge tracts of public land for private development, but this is the council that in 2013 cut its funding stream to the hostel’s mother and baby unit, leaving 29 vulnerable young women and their children facing eviction and relocation to towns and cities miles from their families. It was through the fightback of the young mothers that the Focus E15 campaign was born. It won its demands only by confronting the hostility, dirty tricks and harassment of Newham Council. After the campaign occupied empty flats on the boarded-up Carpenters Estate to highlight the outrage of hundreds of homes left empty, Robin Wales was forced to issue an apology for the way the mothers were treated. As Jasmin Stone and Sam Middleton, two of the leading members of the campaign, put it in an open letter:
‘Robin Wales, this is ridiculous, even for you. Your council has given no assistance to the 210 young vulnerable people at Focus E15 hostel and at least 40 babies have been evicted from there during the last three years. You have called us names. You have tried to silence us. You told the mums from the hostel that it is not suitable for anyone to live in and needs to come down…You cut support for vulnerable residents so that some were removed out of London and others live on the street.’
The council’s media team went into damage limitation mode, repeating its tired old lies … ‘always supported the vulnerable … Newham Council has never evicted anyone from the foyer’. They are playing semantics. The truth is that the Focus E15 hostel, now sub-let to management company Tando Lettings has become Newham’s dumping ground for families, old and young, sick and vulnerable people. It cannot wash its hands of responsibility.
Recently on its regular Saturday street stall in Stratford, the Focus E15 campaign met a woman who was placed in the hostel two years ago – after 12 years in temporary accommodation in Newham. She described the squalid conditions in the hostel, with overflowing communal bins, bare floor boards, inadequate hot water and no cooker. Her adult daughter, with three young children, has also been placed in emergency hostel accommodation in Stratford by the council. They live in a single room infested with cockroaches.
Another resident has severe mental health issues. Early in May she received a knock on the door and was informed she had to be out of the hostel by the next day as the council had declared she did not have social care needs and had renounced its duty to rehouse her. She became depressed and suicidal. The Focus E15 campaign mobilised and prevented her immediate eviction. Within days of this show of solidarity, an apology from the council was pushed under the woman’s door, agreeing she had not made herself intentionally homeless and reinstating their duty to rehouse her. She is safe there till 23 June, and the mental health team and housing options worker have now been to visit her to discuss her future. This case shows once again that if we fight, we can win. On 21 May, Focus E15 campaign held a Day of Action under the banner: ‘Housing is a mental health issue.’
Join the Focus E15 campaign stall every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway, London E15 (outside Wilko’s).
Next campaign meeting Saturday 4 June, 2.30pm, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road E15 4DN – all welcome.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016