The Bristol Cable, visited the Focus E15 Mothers in Newham, East London, who occupied empty flats, turning them into a social centre and open house for the homeless.
Last October, 29 young single mums were forced out of the Focus E15 hostel by Newham council in the wake of funding cuts. The women were offered temporary accommodation outside of London, some as far away as Birmingham and Manchester.
After a campaign including protests, occupations and petitions, the Focus E15 Mothers have managed to stay in their home borough of Newham. However, faced with private short-term rental leases and benefit payments that barely cover the cost of living, these young mums are unsure if they’ll manage to stay.
This is why the women, many of whom are in their teens, and none older than 25, occupied an empty block of flats, they told the Bristol Cable. They are protesting the demolition of social housing, and plan to keep on campaigning until they secure council housing in their home borough of Newham.
“So many people have come out and said, you know what, it’s about time we started fighting back. A load of people have donated stuff and helped us out. It’s now got to the stage were people are saying: If they can do it, we can do it”
said Saffron, 14.
Outside the until recently occupied building on the Carpenters Estate, a draped banner read, “People need homes, and homes need people.”Against a background of newly built luxury housing looming behind boarded up council flats, the message was clear. “If you look at those luxury apartments, especially at night time, barely any of the lights are on. It says a lot. Obviously local people can’t afford them, or they’ve been bought by rich investors who live miles or countries away” said single mum, Sam, 20, one of the core organisers of E15 Focus Mothers.
Many of the flats on this estate have been empty for over eight years. This is a borough where 24,000 people are on the waiting list for council housing, and which has generated £9billion of private investment since the 2012 Olympics – much of it marketed as a regeneration drive that would benefit locals.
“They say they don’t have money to pay for places like this. But sorry, how do you have the money to build Westfield (shopping centre) and the Olympic park, but you don’t have money to build family homes? Sorry, but that’s complete bullshit”,
It’s clear that these women are fed up of being treated as a problem, and of the strains of being moved from one temporary accommodation to another. In the face of an affordable housing crisis, they’re not waiting for council directives. Despite the possession orders, something they’re all too familiar with, they’re taking it upon themselves to implement their own practical solutions. Their demand, as chalked on the floor outside the occupied site, read ‘social housing not social cleansing’. Saffron made it clear that they’re not leaving Newham anytime soon.
“I was born and bred in East London, and there’s no way in hell that I’ll get kicked out of my home town.”
You can find Focus E15 Mothers on Facebook and Twitter.