Camden council – stop the cycle of homelessness and poverty

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We blogged urgently earlier this month when one of our members was given a days notice by Camden council to view and accept private rented accommodation. Camden council were using their new powers given to them in the Localism Act to force homeless households to accept an offer of private rented accommodation. If they refuse this offer, the council can end their homeless duty and evict them from their current temporary accommodation. The council will also remove them from the social housing waiting list.

We are deeply concerned at Camden council’s policy and treatment of homeless households. Why are Camden council forcing homeless households to accept private rented accommodation – or else face street homelessness – when the private rented sector is one of the biggest causes of homelessness? Homeless households must be allowed to wait for secure social housing if they wish.

We demand that Camden council urgently review their homelessness policy and housing allocations policy:

  • Camden council must not force homeless households into the private rented sector. If a private rented offer is made, the uptake of this offer should be voluntary not mandatory. No one should face homelessness for refusing a private rented sector offer.
  • If a private rented sector offer is accepted, the council should allow them to remain on the waiting list for secure social housing. Homeless households, people in housing need, and those who have faced homelessness must be able to access secure, social housing.
  • Whether homeless households remain in temporary accommodation or voluntarily accept a private rented offer, these two groups must have high priority on the housing waiting list because of their high housing need.

Our member

Our member and her daughter were left in a hostel for over a year by Camden council, having to use shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. As soon as we raised concerns about this, they were provided with self-contained temporary accommodation. However, shortly after this, the council have now forced the family to accept a private rented offer.

We had another member who was also kept in a hostel by Camden council for over a year, and then after we challenged this, she was moved into private rented accommodation.

We are concerned that the council are happy to neglect people in hostel accommodation for years and when challenged, force them to accept a private rented offer. It certainly feels like a punishment for raising unsuitable hostel accommodation. After enduring unsuitable hostel accommodation, clearly these households need quality, secure social housing.

We sent a Freedom of Information request to Camden council to find out their policy on forcing homeless households into private rented accommodation. The FOI shows that in the last year the council conducted 112 suitability assessments, and have subsequently discharged their duty with a private rented offer to 25 households. So far, the number of households forced into the private rented sector is relatively small, although of course, the impacts on these families will be huge. That our member, who challenged her unsuitable hostel accommodation, was selected for a private sector discharge, does look targeted.

Overcrowding and insecurity

Our member is already worried about what moving into this private rented accommodation means in terms of insecurity. “How long will I be able to live there for? What happens after 2 years?” She asked us. Of course, with private rented accommodation, we can’t answer, because it is all in the hands of the private landlord (although any private rented offer given by the council through the Localism Act must be for a minimum of 12months) and whether she is able to cover what could be an ever increasing rent.

The accommodation is also a one bedroom flat so housing officers suggested that her 15 year old daughter could put a bed in the living room. This is totally unacceptable. Good quality housing means people have living space and private space. Living spaces should not double up as bedrooms.

Camden council must support homeless people and meet our demands above rather than their current project of cutting their housing waiting list.

How is she not vulnerable? 7 months and Southwark council still won’t support our member, a DV survivor

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Update from 3rd December 2016:

Yesterday evening we got good news from our member that Southwark council has finally accepted a full homeless duty. It should never have taken 7 months for Southwark to provide this most basic support for our member. The last 7 months have been incredibly stressful and hard for her as she faced negative decisions from the council whilst her refuge served her notice. But together, public pressure made Southwark reverse their original decision that she was not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty. We’re some way away from the secure social housing she needs, and there are constantly new policies to make it even harder for us to access. But it’s important to celebrate this win.

Her lawyer emailed her to congratulate her on winning her case – here he recognised the incredible effort that our member and her supporters went to to achieve this decision!

Thank you to everyone who emailed, tweeted, and supported our member and our group! Especially NELMA who always show amazing twitter solidarity! Thanks Sisters Uncut – South East London for inviting our member raise her case at your meeting with Southwark council. Collective action and solidarity works! Let’s keep on winning together and fight for the quality, secure homes we all need!

Original post:

This Wednesday, South East London Sisters Uncut are meeting with Southwark council to demand safe, secure homes for survivors of domestic violence. We send them our solidarity. Here we provide an update for the case of one of our members, a survivor of domestic violence, who has been challenging Southwark for 7 months now simply for a homeless duty. She desperately needs safe, secure housing so she can get on with her life. Why are Southwark council denying her this? We hope her case can be raised at the meeting and that Southwark are held to account. We hope that Southwark listen to Sisters Uncut and our member and make sure their domestic violence policies give DV survivors the help and support that they need.

In July, we first blogged about our member C who was denied a homeless duty by Southwark council because they deemed her not vulnerable, despite having endured 33 years in an abusive relationship. Hundreds of messages have been sent to Southwark’s councillor for housing, Stephanie Cryan expressing concern and support for C and questioning how the council could find her not vulnerable. But the council have still not accepted a homeless duty.

C then reviewed the council’s appalling decision with the help of lawyers. In the council’s review, they again decided that she was not vulnerable and would not accept a homeless duty. However, they then withdrew this decision. We hoped that they would accept a full homeless duty, but they returned another negative decision. Again, with lawyers, C is reviewing the new negative decision.

In September, C joined a meeting between HASL and Southwark council housing officials where she bravely explained her situation to them and challenged them on their decision. But they still refused to take any action to ensure that she is given the housing help she desperately needs.

C first made her homeless application to Southwark council in May this year. 7 months later and lots of effort and strength on C’s part, C still does not have safe, secure housing. During these 7 months, as well as taking on Southwark council over her own case, C has been a valued HASL member, supporting others with their housing problems too.

How can Southwark council draw out the homeless process for so long for vulnerable homeless people? In October, C was served with a notice to leave from her domestic violence refuge, requesting that she vacate the accommodation on Sunday 13th November. Southwark council must accept a full homeless duty and provide temporary accommodation immediately.

Southwark council’s negative decisions and delays have caused C significant stress and have negatively impacted on her well being. C desperately needs safe secure housing so she can get on with her life. Southwark are denying her this and instead she has spent the last 7 months trying to get them to provide the most basic support of suitable temporary housing.

Camden council, don’t force a homeless family into the private rented sector

Don’t let Camden council get away with this, tweet them your views @camdentalking

We’re very concerned about Camden council’s treatment of our member and her daughter. Today (2nd November) they were sent a letter informing them that their homeless duty is being ended because the council have found them a private rented tenancy. They must view this property tomorrow afternoon.

Firstly, we know that private rented accommodation is the biggest cause of homelessness, therefore it is unsuitable accommodation for homeless families to be housed in. They should be allowed to wait until they can access the secure council housing they need.

Secondly, Camden council have given only one days notice of this viewing (it is not clear whether they must move in tomorrow as well), when the family have work and school commitments. The family are Spanish speakers, but the letter was written in English, so they have not been able to fully understand the important information in the letter which warns them that the council is ending its duty. It is only through the help of HASL that they have understood the main message of the letter.

Private rented accommodation is highly unsuitable for the family who have experienced homelessness a number of times in the lives already. For a year Camden council housed them in hostel accommodation with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The family desperately need secure, quality council housing so that they can get on with their lives without the threat of homelessness and deeper poverty that the private rented sector causes.

The council also inform then that they will no longer be on the council’s waiting list for social housing and that if they re-apply, it is likely they will not qualify to join this list.

We are calling on Camden council to allow the family to remain in their current temporary accommodation which the family are satisfied with and to continue bidding for council housing. We believe no one should be forced into private rented accommodation and we are disappointed that Camden council are using their new powers in the Localism Act to do this.

In HASL, many of our members are homeless or faced with homelessness and we have been paying close attention to local councils and how they are using their new powers in the Localism Act which enable them to force homeless families into private rented accommodation. You can read more about the situation and your rights here. We’ll be taking action together to resist councils forcing us into insecure, unsuitable, expensive private rented accommodation. Everyone needs and deserves quality, secure council housing – homeless households and others in housing need desperately need this and councils should be doing everything they can to guarantee them this. Get involved in your local housing action group to make this happen.

We are hugely disappointed that Camden council is not supporting their homeless residents by ensuring they get the council housing they need. Instead they are forcing vulnerable people into unsuitable housing whilst cutting back the social housing waiting list at the same time.

Southwark council – no more excuses, no more housing nightmares!

This morning, HASL and our friends from Espacio Mama and English for Action visited Southwark council’s town hall in support of 5 families who face statutory overcrowding and have been subjected to long delays by Southwark council in getting the help they need. As Southwark council’s housing allocations policy states, these families should qualify for band 1 due to the serious and appalling nature of their living conditions. However, the council have insultingly responded that the families have caused the statutory overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. We know this is not true and it is an insult to even suggest this. It is basic common sense that these families have not endured years of severely overcrowded housing deliberately.

We demand that Southwark council follow its clear housing allocations policy and ensure these families are placed into band 1 immediately, the banding that reflects their severe housing need.

At the town hall, we bumped into the manager for homeless services Ian Swift on his way in to work, but instead of engaging with the group, he rushed past us, and instructed security to call the police on us!

Thankfully, the security staff decided this was not necessary and we were able to remain in the town hall and were not thrown out into the cold!

Two members from the press office came to speak with us about why we were there. We explained the 5 cases and the two members of staff agreed with us on a number of occasions that it was obvious that the overcrowded situations were not caused by a ‘deliberate act’ of the families. They promised that the cases would be looked into by Housing Director Gerri Scott and that we will hear from them soon. Let’s hope that we get some good news soon, and if not, we’ll be returning!

More information on the cases

As well as failing to follow their housing allocations policy in the spirit with which it was intended, and failing to acknowledge the acute housing crisis as the cause for overcrowding rather than the ‘choice’ of these families, we have also experienced long and unnecessary delays in getting the assistance from the council that we need. We have repeatedly provided the necessary information to process their cases. These delays and problems include:

One member first submitted information on her case on 23 May. She did not get a response for 3 months, and only then, because we contacted the council to chase up the case.

We first emailed Ian Swift about these five cases on 25th July detailing the statutory overcrowding and how they had all tried to access the housing register and had faced a number of problems doing so.

August we received a response finally saying that no applications are open for anyone and no documents have been received (even though 2 had receipts of having accounts). The group had actually visited the housing office and one stop shop on 25 July to submit information and documents, which had obviously not been processed.

HASL met with Ian Swift and a number of housing officers on September 14 where we requested to be told the information they needed in order to review these cases quickly, but they refused to tell us what further information was needed. We were promised that the cases would be independently reviewed within 10 days. 10 working days later and we had heard nothing. After a reminder, the person who had originally looked at the cases returned the reviews to us on October 10.

Accessing the housing register has been an extremely difficult process to follow and understand, particularly for non-English speakers as many of our members are.

In total, we have spent a great deal of our time over many months emailing Ian Swift and his officers, collecting together all the required information, to resolve these cases. Some might say we have been doing their job for them! These serious cases should not be taking months to resolve.

The families have highlighted the incredibly serious consequences of the appalling conditions they face:

Children and young people without space to study and play.

Children experiencing depression and mental ill health due to the overcrowded conditions.

Poor conditions, including the ceiling falling through in the kitchen, and the landlord renting out another room to an abusive person who threatened our member. The children are too scared to enter the kitchen after seeing the ceiling fall in.

Highly unsuitable shared accommodation for families with young children.

Once these cases are resolved, and the families are placed in their correct band 1, we will be happy to work with the council and in particular the housing office, so that the problems we have faced here and not encountered again.

End gatekeeping at councils! A domestic violence survivor’s experience of homelessness

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I had heard so many people’s frightening stories about how they were treated by the council, so when I decided to make a homeless application I thought it first best to research the law and the homelessness process, specially on domestic violence, for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). On the day I tried to make the application, I was gatekept almost immediately. I was told that I had accommodation and that they were unsure if I could open an application at all. When speaking to a housing officer, for quite some time, I had to keep stressing the fact that I was fleeing domestic violence and that although I was not ‘street homeless’, I was still homeless because I was in a refuge.

After a lot of back and forth, debate and protest with the housing officer – and with input and support from a HASL member and a friend – over the fact that the council weren’t following their own homelessness procedures (according to their website and the law). The fact that I am applicant who had escaped domestic violence was not taken seriously by them, in fact, they seemed to think it was a reason to treat me differently, by claiming that my refuge accommodation meant that I was not homeless. I was finally told that a homelessness application could be opened but that I then needed a separate appointment. The appointment was for two days time, but we were unable to make this date, so another was arranged for the next day.

The day I went to open the application, I provided my allocated housing officer with a folder containing supportive evidence of my circumstances and my medical evidence. The process should have been to open a homelessness application, collect some cursory evidence, and explain the process to the applicant. Instead, I had to debate and justify why I was making an application to RBKC and why I couldn’t go back home. At this stage, I was also told that the application didn’t seem strong. I explained what the legislation says to the housing officer and that domestic violence survivors have an exception to the local connection test (for obvious reasons) when approaching a council with a homelessness application. Although the reason for the application to RBKC was made on the basis of my complex and specialist medical needs and being under the care of Chelsea and Westminster (C&W) hospital, it was extremely premature for the housing officer to make these inquiries at such an early stage – when simply opening an application.

Over the course of many weeks I then had to keep chasing the housing officer to find out what was going on. She eventually emailed me to say: ”I am unable to continuously provide updates on the situation.” They made me feel like I was an annoyance.

The housing officer did call me on few occasions, but only to request information I had already provided, such as my mother’s details – who she said she would contact, but didn’t. She chased my doctor several times too to ask for a report to be signed and submitted which was vague on details, but my GP wanted to speak with me first to get all the necessary information of my conditions. Social Services were also asked for a report; the council said that the decision would be based on this. In the end, the decision was made without key information and without proper investigation. I was made to feel intimated and pressurised throughout the process and I was met with really ill-mannered attitudes when asking for more information and updates as to what was happening.

Whilst waiting for the investigation to be completed so a decision could be made, I got a call from the housing officer asking me to choose between two councils (Lambeth or Barnet) for my homelessness application to be referred to. It seemed that a homelessness duty had been accepted, but when I asked the housing officer if the duty towards me was recognised she did not confirm this and insisted that I decide between the two councils then and there. She told me that a referral had been made on the basis of local connection. I was feeling pretty anxious but persevered by trying to explain that the local connection does not apply to domestic violence survivors – in response to which I was told that this means I am free to ‘approach any council’.

I continued to try to give reasons as to why I had approached RBKC – based on my medical needs and because the hospital support I am receiving is at C&W hospital, and that I was regularly being driven by paramedics from my refuge to the hospital – but the housing officer consistently brushed off what I was saying and told me that if I did not choose then she would be choosing Lambeth for me due to local connection. Bearing in mind that local connection is usually based on living or working in an area of ‘choice’ over a period of time, for me, moving into a refuge in this part of London was not a choice. The housing officer was boxing me in to agreeing to Lambeth with no opportunity for me to consider Barnet – even though that would still leave me miles away from C&W hospital and vulnerable.

I told her I was being forced and that I was documenting our conversation. I ensured that I kept asking her if she was saying that I must decide on a borough then and there and she said ‘Yes, I am or I will decide Lambeth for you’. I felt that it was a predetermined action when asking me to choose, knowing that I would have no real choice but to opt for Barnet rather than Lambeth (for reasons which I had already made clear to the housing officer). I was bullied into choosing a borough, and I was told that my medical needs were secondary to local connection.

I was later informed that I would get a decision letter in the post and that Barnet would be in contact with me as the referral would be made by the end of the day. I have not had any form of contact from Barnet. However, they have contacted my key worker asking for a copy of my documents.

A referral to another council under local connection after a homeless duty is recognised, is not an action that has to be done, especially if there are special circumstances. I am still at a loss as to why severe needs are discounted in favour of meeting a local connection test. This incident has left me especially shaken and feeling bullied, resonating the helplessness of the situation that I had escaped. The support of HASL really gave me the confidence to know that I am important and that I should not be bullied into compromising my health and rights.

For me, remaining in a domestic violence home continued due to the fear of how would I survive if I ever left – where would I go? How would I start over? How would I eat or sleep ? How would I rebuild my life? Domestic violence is a horrible situation to be in and come from, and unfortunately the victim (in turn, survivor) is the one that ends up losing their home and having their life up-rooted.

When I fled domestic violence, I used to be confident in our government, councils and support networks – they have policies and laws and are supposed to help and support people, right? They are supposed to help me get back to a better quality of life, help me find a suitable, safe and long-term secure home, and live free of domestic violence. By not being given the help and by making the experience of getting support horrible through bullying and intimidation, recovery becomes an unnecessary struggle. Councils are making the process so difficult through unpleasant and unnecessary gatekeeping that they are actively contributing to people not being able to leave abusive environments, or having to find themselves going back to these domestic violent situations.

I have now put the council’s decision to review, but had it not been for the skills in being able to research and communicate (which I am not always able to) and for HASL’s support and guidance, I dread to think what would have happened or where I would have ended up.

It is with this ordeal that I am reminded of a few words from Gladstone Women’s Health:

”A domestic violence victim can’t even start a plan to leave until they first believe that life outside of that relationship is better and possible.”

HASL print workshop!

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October 15 @ 12:00 pm5:00 pm
DIY Space for London,
96-102 Ormside St
London, SE15 1TF

 

(EN)

Join graphics collective Queen Mob and Casiopex for a lino, risograph and screenprinting workshop.
Get inspired by tales and graphics from Latin American resistances, and make some prints about local housing struggles.

Casiopex is a print maker and anarchist from the state of Mexico who, among other projects, is involved in community land struggles in Jalisco and a social centre in Guadalajara.
Queen Mob Collective is a printmaking collective with no geographical base who enjoy making rowdy visuals with autonomous community groups.

Come with ideas for visuals and slogans to fight the housing crisis together.
There will be a creche and crayonz for kidz and a Pot Luck Lunch! So bring a dish to share

(ES)
Vengan a jugar con los dibujos, los linoleos y la serigrafia con QueenMob y Casiopex
Tomaremos las experiencias de la resistencia en latinoamerica y con la inspiracion de la grafica haremos algunas impresiones de la lucha por las viviendas locales.

Casiopex le gusta compartir grafica y recetas de cocina! Esta involucrado en algunas luchas de defensa de la tierra en jalisco y participa en una biblioteca autonoma en Guadalajara.
Colectivo QueenMob es un colectivo de grafica que no tiene un punto geografico establesido y que disfrutan de hacer imagenes ruidosas con comunidades autonomxs.

Vengan con sus ideas visuales y frases de la lucha para peliar juntxs contra la crisis inmobilaria.
Habrá una guardería y crayones para lxs ninxs y chamacxs. Es de trage.. Pues traigan un plato de comida para compartir!

HASL supports the East Street 3

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On 21st June 2015, people from Walworth, south London, resisted an immigration raid by the UKBA in our neighbourhood. People blocked the UKBA van in a street just off East street in which a local shop worker was being detained. As the crowd grew in support, riot police officers suddenly violently attacked the crowd using dogs and helped the UKBA van to drive away with the person inside. This person was later deported – forcibly and violently removed from his neighbourhood and community.

3 people were arrested for their presence at this resistance. This month, these three people are on trial at Blackfriars Crown Court. Their charges could potentially see them receive 1-3 year prison sentences if found guilty.

HASL shows our support for those now on trial. A number of our members were also at that resistance of the immigration raid last year as many of us live in the area and call it our home. We know that the only violence on that day came from the riot police and the UKBA. We believe that we should all feel safe and secure in our homes and neighbourhoods and should be able to live free from the threat of detention and deportation. We know that fighting for good quality homes that we all need and deserve, means also fighting for our right to decide where we make our home.

In the days following the raid, people visited the shops and stalls on East street market handing out information on people’s rights if there are immigration checks and raids. As on the day itself, there was lots of vocal support from stallholders, other workers, and people passing through the market for the resistance that had occurred.

This immigration raid was not an isolated racist attack on our communities but one action amongst many orchestrated by local and national government and their developer friends to displace and impoverish working class people, particularly working class people of colour.

East Street lies in between the former Heygate estate and the Aylesbury estate. When they were both there, the Heygate and Aylesbury estates were homes for thousands of households – until Southwark council decided to sell them off and demolish them. The Heygate estate was once made up of 1,000 council homes but has been replaced with private, ‘luxury’ flats. The Aylesbury estate is still standing, but hundreds of households have been forced out and so many homes now stand empty. Following the Heygate, these quality homes will be demolished and private flats will replace them. These estate demolitions have caused the social and ethnic cleansing of their former residents on a large scale and the huge loss of what was good quality council housing in the area.

Whilst the council and developers are forcibly removing people from their homes and communities, others face the UKBA breaking into their homes and workplaces and being thrown into a van as we witnessed on East street last year. These events are happening side by side, on a daily basis, in the same neighbourhoods, targeting the same people.

In HASL, many of our members have experienced forced evictions from their homes, displacement from their communities and deep poverty as they attempt to remain in the area they call home. A lot of our members have also fled the poverty they faced in other countries, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Here, they face harassment from the Home Office, poor quality housing and homelessness, and restricted or no access to benefits and council housing. We support each other and take action collectively against the root causes of our exploitation and oppression. This is what happened on East street over a year ago, and this is why we support everyone who was acting in defence of their neighbourhood that day.

Read the East Street Solidarity Statement and blog

Find out more information on your rights during immigration checks and raids from Anti-Raids Network