This is an update:
Regular readers will know that I recently published a story about the letter on this page – a letter that threatened a Newham hostel resident with homelessness if she didn’t attend a meeting.
Lukia, the woman who received the letter, has serious mental health issues.
She’s recently been in the care of a mental health unit.
The note said that Lukia would be thrown off the council homelessness list and evicted from her hostel room if she didn’t attend a meeting that day.
Needless to say, Lukia found this note upsetting in the extreme.
When I first posted the letter, some readers here and on facebook felt that it couldn’t be genuine – that staff couldn’t have issued such a rough note on an unheaded piece of paper in such unprofessional way.
I understood that. Nobody wants to think that council and hostel staff professionalism have collapsed to such a point.
Except that professionalism has collapsed – at councils, at the DWP – all over.
In the two recent videos below, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz apologises for that letter. She says that there’s been an investigation into the note and that the person responsible has been sacked.
I’ve heard the same thing on the grapevine, so we’ll go with it for now.
Thing is – what next? – for Newham, for councils generally, for the whole of the public sector?
The political and media classes couldn’t care less that the public sector is actually anarchic a lot of the time. Brexit is their one interest and fatal obsession. You’d be better off asking Santa for housing than putting in a request with that lot.
Politicians like Fiaz do a good line in apologising (google “Rokhsana Fiaz apology” for a look), but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still overseeing a housing catastrophe. The national housing disaster is going nowhere even faster than Brexit. Sadly, unlike Brexit, it isn’t live-blogged by mainstream press outlets in real time.
The best you can hope for now with local politicians is a kneejerk response that goes in your favour.
I know for a fact how things “work” behind the scenes at certain council offices at the moment, because I’m in contact with officers here and there. Campaigners and welfare advisers bring individual housing cases to the attention of a mayor or a council leader. That mayor or leader rushes down to the housing options team in that council and tells staff to find housing for that individual pronto.
Staff do as they’re told and money is somehow found to meet a local rent (this part always intrigues me), but staff seethe. Some leave. There’s no system as such – just reflex reactions from sensitive politicians. The thing really is lawless – like Brexit, if you will. Sign of the times, I suppose.
If you’re campaigning with people who are homeless, that sensitivity is your main way in. Problem is – not everyone who is homeless knows that, or is in a position to pressure a council.
Lukia has been offered housing.
The videos. I’ve put transcriptions in as the second one in particular is a bit hard to hear:
[Start this video at about 9.10).
“That is one thing that has been so absent from our council – respect for our residents…and it basically related to a situation a couple of weeks ago where regretfully an officer employed by the council thought in his wisdom, or their wisdom, I don’t know whether it was a he or she, thought in their wisdom to post a note, not even in an envelope, written in bold type, to basically say to this vulnerable woman with children… if you do not contact the council, you are at risk of being homeless – demanding that they contact the council. Rightly, it was brought to my attention. I was appalled by it. We dealt with it and I initiated an immediate investigation… that member of staff is no longer working for the council.”
“The incident concerned was the distribution of a very shocking note, in bold typeface on a scrappy piece of paper and hand delivered through the door letterbox of an individual resident of ours at Victoria House, basically demanding that she be in touch with the council, and if she wasn’t in touch with the council she was at risk of homelessness.
“As soon as it was drawn to my attention, I requested with the cabinet members for housing services, Councillor John Gray and Councillor Shaban Mohammed, investigate. There is an internal investigation underway and it transpires that a member of staff, regretfully, issued that note and suffice to say, it has been communicated very strongly by me to officers, senior officers responsible for this area, that this shouldn’t have ever happened.”