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400 homes left empty on East London estate while homeless families forced to isolate in one-bedroom flats

FAMILIES who have been forced to isolate in overcrowded hostels during the pandemic are demanding an east London council reopen 400 homes left dormant for 13 years. 

Mothers living in cramped emergency accommodation at Brimstone House, a hostel formerly known as Focus E15, in Newham, staged a protest over the weekend to demand the council open the empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. 

Around 70 people formed a socially distanced human chain from the hostel to the estate, a distance of around 1km, to demonstrate “the homes are only a walk away.” 

“It’s really upsetting when, during a pandemic, people are so much more at risk and being told to isolate and keep safe and at the same time there’s this huge empty space and its being withheld from them,” Focus E15 campaigner Saskia O’Hara told the Morning Star. 

Newham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, with one in every 24 people in the borough without a home and more than 28,000 people on the council housing list. 

It has also suffered the highest proportion of deaths from Covid-19 in England and Wales, while it is the most ethnically diverse region in the country. 

Ms O’Hara said the weekend’s protest was “especially important” to show that these issues are intrinsically linked. 

The calls follow a year-long campaign by Focus E15, a group founded by mothers who lived in Brimstone House, to move people back into the Carpenters Estate after tenants were evicted 13 years ago. 

Newham Council Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said that the units will reopen as “genuinely affordable housing.”

The demonstration was part of London Renters Union’s day of action across eight boroughs demanding ministers suspend rents during the pandemic, cancel rent debt and end racism in housing. 

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