HASL get member housed back in her community!

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Yesterday morning, about thirty HASL members and ESOL group English for Action, visited Southwark council’s town hall in support of our member Ruth and her family who had been housed by the council all the way out in Woolwich.

This accommodation was far away from their school, community and work places. To get to school her children had to travel on 3 buses for 2 hours, and then they had to do this after school to get home again. That’s 20 hours commuting each week on 30 buses! This was having an extremely negative impact on the children’s education and well being. Everyone needs and deserves decent housing in their community. We won’t let people be forced out.

We went to demand ‘A home near school’ and after a short time in the town hall’s lobby – where we played Twister, Jenga, and talked with staff about the housing crisis and our group – we were told that alternative temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury estate* had been found for the family. Ruth was relieved and happy at the outcome, as we all are that Ruth and her family are now back home.

But it shouldn’t take 30 people occupying the town hall for homeless people and families to be treated well and provided with suitable temporary accommodation. And we were appalled by one housing managers comments when we asked him why no furniture (no beds!) was provided in the accommodation – “it’s got a roof, it’s liveable”. We doubt he’d call this liveable if it were provided for him and his family. This is no standard or way to treat homeless people.

We want to challenge the poor treatment and provision for homeless people in Southwark and fight social cleansing! Get involved in HASL to help us do this!

Thank you to everyone who came and supported Ruth. Don’t struggle alone! Together we can win!

*The Aylesbury estate is in the process of ‘regeneration’ (demolition of council housing and its replacement with unaffordable private housing = social cleansing). Secure tenants are being moved/forced out leaving perfectly habitable flats empty. Southwark is using some of these flats to house homeless people (and collect rent from them!).  This seems sensible enough as it keeps people in their home borough (and makes Southwark council money). We oppose the demolition of the Aylesbury estate and support all residents and locals who are fighting for it. Check out Fight for the Aylesbury for more information and action.

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HASL benefit night and lunch club

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Join us next Tuesday 11th August in Brixton for a benefit night for HASL! There’ll be us, great music, cake and more! You can buy tickets here. All money raised will go towards our group to fight against poverty and for good housing for everyone! Bring your friends! Join and share the facebook event here.

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This Sunday 9th August is our regular monthly lunch club with London Campaign Against Police and State Violence and Football Beyond Borders. There’ll be delicious, free food – including a BBQ – games, football, t-shirt printing and a chance to hang out together. We’ll also be planning future lunch clubs at this one, so you can find out how to get involved! Eat together, fight together!

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Holding Peckham Housing Office to Account

Last week, HASL was outside Southwark Council’s Peckham Housing Office every day from 11am-2pm – handing out leaflets, talking to people experiencing issues with housing and welfare, and offering solidarity with those attending the office. Our presence was part of a broader campaign by the group to support each other, share knowledge of and enforce our rights, and to further document the culture of abuse which dominates the day to day running of the office.

People who spoke to us revealed a clear truth: that Peckham Housing Office is an undeniably abusive space, where people are regularly bullied, intimidated and habitually denied access to the services and help they are entitled to in law (‘gatekeeping’). People attending the office are regularly met with racist and sexist abuse, summarily ejected from or denied entry to the office (sometimes by force) and treated without the basic courtesies and respect that any reasonable person would expect of a public service.

As things currently stand, it is impossible for us to enter the housing office. Every attempt to support each other at appointments inside has been met with physical resistance from security staff – the police have also been called on us twice. This is in direct contradiction with written assurances from Southwark Council’s cabinet member for housing, Richard Livingstone, that “[Southwark Council] think it is reasonable for customers to be accompanied to homelessness interviews by their representatives, friends, or family.”

We described our first day outside the housing office in detail here. As soon as we arrived to set up the stall, we were verbally abused by the office’s security guards. Once they decided to leave us alone, the day turned out to be really productive. We met lots of people, many of them young women with families, or who are pregnant, and facing really stressful housing situations which the council is not helping them resolve effectively.

Tuesday was a lot quieter, although the people we spoke to all shared similar stories of mistreatment. Security staff seemed to be adopting a different approach by being really friendly to people coming into the housing office – we heard hushed comments of “oh, they’re here again today” from passing council staff.

On Wednesday, the security guards had the doors closed, demanding people entering justify themselves before letting them in. Several people were milling around outside the office, some were crying, others were expressing their anger at how they had been treated by their caseworkers. A housing officer came out to speak to us and was saying that the council was overworked and that it was difficult trying to help people who don’t manage their priorities as they were more interested in ‘getting their weaves and nails done’. The housing officer also raised some pretty disturbing views on immigration. Here are just a handful of the stories people shared with us on Wednesday:

  • A woman fleeing with her child from Brent, where she has suffered domestic violence. She was treated appallingly by Brent Council who refused to help her as they said that the violence she was facing was nothing more than a ‘relationship breakdown’. She is now a refugee in Southwark and is trying to secure stable accommodation outside of Brent.
  • A 65 year old single man who has been trying to get a one bedroom flat through Southwark Council’s Finders Fee Scheme (the council pay up to £1,200 on signing of the tenancy) – another scheme designed to push people away from affordable council housing into the precarious private rental sector. He is finding it difficult to find private landlords that will accept tenants his age and on housing benefit.
  • A man and his young daughter placed in temporary accommodation 6 months ago. The council have now told him that the property is ‘illegal’. He explained that it the flat once used to be a single flat, but was split into 3 overcrowded flats. The council have offered him other temporary accommodation in the borough, but it doesn’t have anything in it except for an old cooker. He was told to go to Croydon to pick up the keys and sign a new lease, which means he has to miss a day of work.
  • A young woman being threatened with a possession order for rent arrears of £200. She has been seeking information from the council as to what this means, but they prefer to deal with this via threatening letters. She is going to go back to the housing office to try and work out a deal so that she and her children can keep their home, but remains cynical.

By Thursday, the security guards were back to their usual role of being really difficult to deal with. When we attempted to support a woman who wanted us to attend her appointment with her, staff at the office denied us entry and called the police – who pointed out on arrival that it was a matter between us and the council. At around 1pm they shut all the doors and told everyone – including a heavily pregnant woman who just needed to submit wage slips – to come back later.  And again, throughout the session, we heard the same stories of completely inadequate behaviour from the council

Friday was fairly quiet again – a possible factor being that the housing office don’t do “pre-assessment interviews” on Fridays.  We heard more stories from people that we are already too familiar with: gatekeeping, denial of service, racism.

The stall was well attended by HASL members throughout the week and there was lots of interest from people and an increasing understanding of what HASL is about. People are quite rightly furious about the way the treated by Southwark Council, and the conditions they’re forced to live in. Our hope is that people are able to support each other in channeling this anger into securing the housing we all need and deserve. Our hope is to continue to build a sustainable movement with the aim of improving our immediate material conditions.

Peckham Housing Office has proven itself a place completely unfit for purpose. The past week has clearly demonstrated the climate of inexcusable behaviour which runs the place. It’s for these reasons that it is essential we be able to support each other at housing offices, attending each other’s appointments and interviews. We must be able to hold the behaviour of Southwark Council to account – to make sure they follow relevant laws, that people are not submitted to discriminatory behaviour, and that a basic level of respect is offered to those who face intensely stressful and upsetting housing situations. We will be taking action as a group until this is the case. Watch this space, and more importantly, come get involved!

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Call Out: Eviction Resistance on Friday!

URGENT UPDATE: This resistance has been called off as the Possession Order has been withdrawn – for now. Please keep an eye out for updates on this ongoing situation.

We’re currently seeking legal support to try and stop the eviction of a pregnant mum and her young daughter by Southwark Council, but if this doesn’t work, we’ll be resisting the eviction this Friday morning – meeting together at 10:30am at Dean’s Buildings, SE17 1RE (at the end of the road where Dean’s Buildings meets Orb Street)

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Check back on Thursday afternoon to see whether or not we’ll need to resist the bailiffs on Friday. We’ll also be sending a call out via text message on our eviction resistance phone tree –which you can  join here – and keeping people updated on our website and social media.

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Week Long Campaign Outside Peckham Housing Office: Day 1

For some time, we’ve been campaigning against the culture of abuse at Southwark Council’s Housing Office in Peckham. HASL – Starting from yesterday – will be outside the office every day this week between 11am and 2pm handing out leaflets, talking to, and supporting people who have to experience the housing office’s sustained bullying, intimidation and gatekeeping. We hope to demonstrate that the abuse is not isolated to a few individuals, but endemic to the everyday running of the office. If Monday’s session was anything to go by, this seems to be the case.

Within 5 minutes setting up the stall on Monday, the security manager and another security officer (M) approached us and began quoting made-up laws about draping our banner on the railings. They began to verbally abuse us and M made direct threats to a member of the group (M also appears in this video where we were denied entry to the building when attempting to support someone who requested it.) When we realised they were simply trying to distract us we ignored them and they gave up. By the end of the session, the offices were unguarded, save for a few housing officers coming out to look at us and the odd gratuitously hurtful comments made by the security manager as he criticised the parenting of a woman who was talking with HASL (people have also reported experiences of victim-blaming by the council, women in particular are often unfairly criticised about their parenting skills because they are in poverty).

We met a lot of people. Every single one of them had a horror story to tell, and were being entirely inadequately served by the council. As we’re habitually denied access to the offices at the moment – in direct contradiction to written assurances from Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, Richard Livingstone – we tried to offer support and advice to people from outside. Here’s are just some of of the stories we heard from the people we met:

  1. A pregnant mum with a young child who was forced into rent arrears when she got a part time job and the benefits office stopped her housing benefit altogether even though she wasn’t earning enough to justify the wholesale slash in her benefit. The council gave away the direct offer of permanent accommodation they made to her because of the rent arrears and they have now got the bailiffs scheduled for this Friday to evict her from her home. We will be supporting B and her family to resist this eviction on Friday at 10:30am.
  2. A women who is street homeless and has been trying to secure a homelessness interview for over two weeks, and keeps being turned away. Today she was forcefully removed from the housing office with all her belongings. Southwark told her to come back on Wednesday, but even with an appointment, as we saw with another young woman today, the caseworker might not be at the office at the scheduled time. This lady has nowhere to go, so she is likely to sleep outside the housing office until Wednesday.
  3. A pregnant women with 3 young children being evicted from her private rental property due to a bureaucratic error with her housing benefit payments. Unable to find alternative accommodation, Southwark Council have repeatedly turned her away without offering explanation or advice.
  4. A pregnant woman who’s been in stage 1 B&B temp accommodation for 11 weeks (people are supposed to be moved to more permanent and suitable temporary accommodation after 6 weeks). The council keeps trying to force her to distance areas, all of which would make it impossible for her child to attend their school in Peckham.
  5. A pensioner who stopped to speak to us just because she was passing by on her way home. She then came back after she found a letter in her post box asking her to leave her temporary accommodation by the 6th July. She has a serious medical conditions and is very concerned about what will happen in the coming days.  We encouraged her to speak to a housing officer at the council, and when she returned she told us that  the eviction notice was about a payment she was said to owe – this wasn’t mentioned on the scary and confusing eviction notice.
  6. A young woman waiting outside the housing office to meet with her social worker, at her social worker’s request. Her social worker has told her to get a job and find a private rental. The woman didn’t know what the meeting was about, but she was waiting around for it, expecting a call at 12:30. At 12:35 she went in to the office and was told that the social worker was not available. She left still not knowing why she was asked to come there.

Many people who turn up are simply turned away without reason or told things that simply act to delay them getting the help and support they need. People are told to come back at arbitrary points in the future, without appointments. Appointments that are offered regularly result in unexplained non-attendance from council officers. People are told very little information, and find it very difficult to know how their cases are progressing, adding stress to an already hugely stressful situation. Gatekeeping practices, which Southwark has been called out on by the courts, are business as usual at the housing office. Based on our conversations with many people today, not a single person we met had been dealt with according to the Code of Guidance or the relevant legislation. It appears that this is a housing office utterly out of control.

We handed out lots of leaflets, were able to talk to lots of people about what should be happening if Southwark Council were to operate even nominally within their own publicly stated practices. People were grateful to have the opportunity talk and share in each others struggles. We talked about the experiences HASL has had as a group – all of which was really warmly received. We can fight this treatment, if we do it together. People are quite rightly furious at the way they are treated, and we talked about ways we could work together to seek some kind of justice. The stall also offered a chance for newer faces to the group to become more comfortable talking to people, and we were able to share the knowledge we’ve picked up together.

If you can spare even an hour this week to offer support to these stalls, please do drop by any day from now until Friday, from 11am-2pm. Peckham Housing Office, 25 Bournemouth Road, London, SE15 4UJ. We’ll also be talking about the events of the week at our lunch club picnic on Saturday.

HASL June/July News and Events

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1) We’ve recently had two pieces of writing published on Novara Wire.

One looks at tips that we’ve learnt from our 2 years of organising as HASL (and with the advice, support and inspiration of other LCAP groups!) Please have a read and let us know if you’ve got any other ideas that we’ve missed out!

Our second piece is from our Freedom of Information request research looking at how councils are forcing homeless households into the private sector and out of London. 

2) We’re going to the anti-austerity march this Saturday 20th June.

Quality homes for all, no welfare cuts, fight poverty! Join us at 11am outside Brixton tube station to travel up and march together.

3) On Friday 26th June we’re supporting the Mental Health Resistance Network’s March on Streatham Job Centre 

Protest at mental health services and support being moved into Job Centres where claimants are subjected to a culture of bullying and the threat of benefit sanctions. Any quality and consensual mental health support must be kept separate from the DWP bullies who wield sanctions over claimants every move. Read more from Johnny Void here.

4) Our next lunch club with London Campaign Against Police and State Violence is on Saturday 4th July from 12pm at Burgess Park meeting by the kids’ playground.

Come along for free, nutritious food, good company, games, and to meet others organising against poverty, supporting each other and fighting for quality homes for all.

If you’d like to help organise the next lunch club, including collecting donations, and/or helping to cook on the day, get in touch with us (haslemail@gmail.com) or come to our meeting next Wednesday. Join and share our facebook event here.

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5) Our next HASL meeting is next Wednesday 24th June, 6.30pm at Renton Close Community Centre, Renton Close Estate, Brixton Hill, SW2 1EY. 

Come along for support, information, and collective action on your housing problems, to help others in similar situations, and to fight to quality homes for all.

6) The next London Coalition Against Poverty general meeting will be on Saturday 11th July in Hackney.

Details to be confirmed. Save the date! Meet up with other mutual support and collective action groups, share tactics and advice, plan action together!