For Steve McCabe MP

By Edd Bauer for Steve McCabe MP

one incident? ... sadly I can show 26 and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

one incident? ... sadly I can show 26 and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I was surprised, but pleased, to find my local Labour MP Steve McCabe challenging me on my facebook wall. McCabe wanted to know about the realities of homelessness in Birmingham reported by a campaign I’m involved in The Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group . At the time I wasn’t able to reply properly, with the kind of quality references that might convince a man so dedicated to facts that he on the basis of the dodgy dossier on Iraq not only voted for the war but, also years later because he was still so confident in the facts , voted against any investigation into the war. So I have written this for him now.

Jokes aside, I am pleased that McCabe is taking the time to engage on the issue. However although his comments to me are polite I’m a little worried that a Labour MP and Former chair of the Birmingham city councils housing committee is questioning that homelessness kills. To me it seems a bit of an “are the poor really poor or are they just whingers” question, which I feel deeply uncomfortable when I see it from coming a Labour MP.

McCabe wrote to me “Dear Edward – I wonder if you’d care to publish any details you have of people who have died as a result of homelessness in Birmingham in the past 12 months.”

For me it seems quite detached from reality and I think callous for the representative to parliament of the City with the UK’s highest rate of homelessness to ask this. How can he not know or see what is going on around him?

As it happens there are several Peer reviewed academic studies of homeless people’s lives in UK which puts the average age at death between 43-47[1 &2],. It should be noted this doesn’t just include rough sleepers who are most vulnerable but also people living in temporary night shelters and hostels.

For direct recorded deaths however, Atleast 26 homeless people were known to have died on Birmingham’s streets last year however the sad thing about homelessness is that its victims seem to be invisible to wider society and its death toll largely unreported, so asking for recorded evidence of specific incidents should be a hard ask, but then again this Birmingham so Steve you should read this and this. “sister of murdered homeless man in appeal”  & “two men killed in derelict high gate house fire” and this “Gang attacked polish homeless man in Birmingham city centre in racist assult“. This incident happened as recently as this week and is not uncommon.

You’d also be very welcome to come down to our weekly food delivery to homeless people in town to get some stories off the people there if you liked?

One interesting and promising comment made by McCabe was this however “ I invite you to publish the addresses of 20% of these properties” and “I would appreciate the addresses of the empty council properties in my Selly Oak constituency which I estimate on your revised figures should be about 60 as I want to take this up with the council.”.

This is promising, however having taken the time to write to every single labour councillor and MP, I’m a little annoyed that only two Sybil Spence (Soho Ward), who took the time to meet with me and gave some advice to taking the campaign further and now McCabe (via facebook) have actually replied. ( Some tory did reply but the less said about that the better).

So for the avoidance of any doubt and for everyone’s perusal we have published this list of all the empty council properties in Birmingham and mapped them here.

I really hope someone in power can do something about it. However, putting these properties back into use would only be a start. The council and government need to be building new homes and bringing back abandoned private sector properties into use, of which there are 11,000 of in Birmingham.

I Hope this has helped Steve and let us know if you have any luck with following this up. However until we see some serious efforts being undertaken the Birmingham homeless and Tenants action group are going to carry on campaigning in the hope of shaming the council & government into action. Feel free to join us.

References

1. http://www.crisis.org.uk/news.php/370/homeless-people-die-30-years-before-national-average

2.http://jrsm.rsmjournals.com/content/103/8/306.citation

Report exposes the hundreds of homes the council are leaving empty

Map of empty counil houses in Birmingham

View Empty Council Housees In Birminghamin a full screen map

A report released today by the Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group, who recently made the headlines by occupying a abandoned council owned property[1], exposes the hundreds of empty properties the council are leaving empty, while thousands sit on waiting lists for homes. The report publishes a list and map of all 607 empty houses that are owned by Birmingham City Council. The list was obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Claire Lister a member of the group said “this is really shocking to see this list but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, there are 11,000 more empty houses not on this list that are privately owned, there are thousands of homeless people in the city plus a 26,000 long waiting list for council homes”

The group are demanding the council put all these houses back into use as social housing as a first step to dealing the the city’s housing crises. Claire Lister said “We also want to see the council seize control of the 11,000 privately owned houses in the city and add them to its social housing stock. Since 2009 there has been a 29% drop in spending on homelessness which has directly lead to a 25% increase in homelessness, we want to see this reversed with a commitment by the council to increase investment in homeless projects.”

The group has said that if the council continue to do nothing about the crises they will begin distributing the list amongst the city’s homeless themselves. John Holland said “People may be homeless but their not helpless, they could die out on the streets they need to get indoors before the winter, If the council remain unwilling to deal with this problem then we refuse to stand by as people die on the streets whilst there are empty houses going unused”

 

[1] http://www.bthag.co.uk/2012/08/27/highgate-park-lodge-squatted/

 

Council to evict homeless activists

PRESS RELEASE

Issued: 04/09/12

For Immediate Release

Contact BTHAG Press Team mobile 07988056867 e-mail Bthag@riseup.net   

 Title: Council to evict homeless activists

On Monday 3rd September two days after the law changed for squatting residential buildings, members of Birmingham Tenants and Homeless Action Group received a notice from the council informing them that if the have not vacated the building by 4:00pm Tuesday 4th September proceedings will commence for possession and eviction by a Court Order.

John Holland, a member of the group said “We condemn the actions of the council, there are homeless people in this house evicting them and forcing them out onto the streets not only does nothing to help the problem of homelessness but in fact makes it worse.”

“We ask the council that the money they will use on court proceedings to evict us be better spent on investing it back into the house to make it liveable so it can be used as low cost social housing. The money could also be spent on helping homeless people get the help and support they need with drug and alcohol dependencies.”

The Birmingham Tenants & Homelessness Action Group have vowed to ignore this notice and resist any attempted eviction.

“Get a Job” & “some things worse than no roof over your head!” say’s Tory, Chairman of council city planning committee to city’s homeless.

Tory councillor, for Weoley ward, Peter Douglas Osborn in quick witted reply to our request for discussion has told that us that there are “worse things than not having a roof over your head”, apparently getting the homeless a job is more important than a roof as Otherwise they [the homeless] may fall under the influence of trotskyites”. The comments sent by e-mail were in reply this request  We would love to hear your thoughts on what we are doing and enter into further dialogue with you about the council putting more resources into bringing empty properties back into use as social housing”.

 Clearly the down to earth tory councillor has a good understanding of the problems the homeless face. Most likely his knowledge of life on the street is first hand, he is probably more acutely aware than most of how easy it is to print off CV’s, get suits, wash and get ready for interviews while living homeless on the streets. He knows that getting the modest Job seekers allowance needed to be able secure a job is easy when homeless. The fact that many homeless people don’t have ID which you need to claim the Job seekers allowance and can’t get one because you can’t get an ID if you don’t have a fixed address is irrelevant.

Below is the exhange so far with this wise tory grandee.

Subject: Re: Tenants & Homeless seize abandoned council house

From:    peter.douglasosborn@birmingham.gov.uk

Date:    Mon, August 27, 2012 8:55 am

To:      bthag@riseup.net

————————————————————————–

 

I think the best way forward is to get these people a job. This is the first step to independance.

Otherwise they may fall under the influence of trotskyites, and let us not forget the Commissar’s famous dictum -

чтo нe работaет кто нe ест

Лев Давидович Троцки   (1919)

So there are some things worse than no roof over your head!

 

Subject: Re: Tenants & Homeless seize abandoned council house

From:    Bthag@riseup.net

Date:    Mon, August 27, 2012 2:34 am

To:      peter.douglasosborn@birmingham.gov.uk

————————————————————————–

 

Dear Councillor,

 

We’re part of a group who have occupied an abandoned council owned house in

Highgate Park. We are writing to you to explain our actions, express our

concern for the council’s policies on housing and hope to receive comments

from you personally.

 

It has been reported in the local press that the police have launched a new

initiative against “aggressive begging,” however in our personal experience

this has amounting to mass-arresting of homeless people simply because they

are homeless. Taken alongside a recent 29% cut in spending towards homeless

relief this strikes us as being particularly unfair and serves no point

other than to push the problem of Birmingham’s high homeless rate under the

rug.

 

At the same time there are over 11,000 empty homes in Birmingham, 2.8% of

the entire property stock and even more abandoned land. The council has the

power to seize abandoned houses and put them back into use as low cost

social housing and has been lobbied regarding this. However serious action

has not been taken, that which has seems nominally small and plans to work

with the “private sector” outlined labours manifesto to us seem vague. This

is why we – a group of tenants and homeless people – have chosen to legally

occupy this abandoned council-owned property and intend to allow homeless

people to stay here. We urge the council to deal with Birmingham’s housing

crisis in a sensible manner and put these abandoned properties to use.

We would love to hear your thoughts on what we are doing and enter into

further dialogue with you about the council putting more resources into

bringing empty properties back into use as social housing. You are welcome

to visit to meet us and talk to us please feel free to arrange a meeting or

just come by.

All the best

Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group

Council spin and our response

You may have seen this article in the Birmingham Mail online last night and the paper today. In it the council provided some quotes and points in response to our occupation of the house. This is a quick analysis of why the council’s points are either meaningless or misleading.

“We have successfully helped 7,277 households avoid homelessness during 2011/12 – a 51 per cent increase when compared to the previous year”,This assistance can come in a variety of forms, from negotiating with landlords to identifying alternative accommodation.”  – council spokesperson

This point presented by the council doesn’t cover the thousands who are already homeless in the city or the 26,000 long waiting lists for council homes; instead it covers those in homes who are at risk of becoming homeless. A 51% rise in this figure is not an encouraging sign. This 51% rise points to a housing crisis, as a 51% increase in households needing council arbitration to protect them from homelessness implies that many more household are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

 “The council is also taking action to increase the supply of affordable homes and recently launched a new scheme to bring 190 privately-owned empty properties back into use.”

Putting 190 properties back into use is not bad and we applaud it, however, at the same time we are not impressed. Creating 190 properties in context seems a very low amount. For example to deal with the reported rise in homelessness in the last few years, the council needs 593 new homes, to deal with homelessness all together that would require 2400 new homes. Further the council has to meet a 26,000 person long waiting list for council homes and by its own estimate construct an additional 70,000 homes in the next 14 years to meet population growth.

when compared to these figures putting 190 homes back in use seems a drop in the ocean, like scoring one out of hundred on test or 190 out 100,000 in this case.

Further this not a new scheme the council have had a scheme to bring back unused private property into use for decades, the problem is that now this program is under used by a council who isn’t tackling the crisis. “New scheme” may sound good but sadly its a lie.

Obviously politicians are going to “spin” facts, but we’d like to remind the council spokesperson in this case she is playing politics not only with these figures but also people’s lives. The council needs to recognise the scale of the problem and take action now.

Squatting sleepover ! Homeless but not helpless!

Last night of legal squatting sleepover and meal 7pm, this Thursday (30th of august) , get directions to find us here.

On 1st September, squatting in residential properties will become illegal. This Thursday, the 30th of August, is the last night that you will be able to settle down snugly in a squatted home, rather than freezing out on the streets.

In celebration of the wonderfully progressive laws that treated housing as a right; that upheld the principle that housing should be allocated according to need and not greed; that said no one should live out on the streets while homes sit empty – come join your friendly homeless campaigners and supporters for the last night of legal English squatting.

This is not to say that squatting will stop after the new law comes into effect. With recession, stagnant wages, mass unemployment and spiraling rents people will be driven to homelessness and forced to squat empty homes. This new law will simply criminalize and further marginalize them; criminal records for sleeping in abandoned properties won’t help anyone get jobs!

We’ll be starting with Dinner at 7pm this Thursday , so be prompt if you want to make sure you get food. We will be chilling all evening before settling down for the sleepover (bring a sleeping bag). Entry free but feel free to donate, all money is going to Birmingham Food Not Bombs, who will continue to support the homeless of the city.

Photos

What we are doing

Birmingham faces a protracted housing crisis. A failing construction industry, recession, the depletion of the council housing stock, austerity and cuts to housing benefits are blighting lives across the city. City planners estimate Birmingham is currently short of 11,000 affordable homes but this is set to rise to 70,000 short by 2026. We have taken over this abandoned council owned house which we wish to become the first of a new stock of homes in Birmingham. We plan on making this property liveable and handing it on to a homeless victim of the governments and councils uncaring incompetence. We will then defend this property and its resident; we will take the council to court if they apply for an eviction. In court we will demand that the council take over operation of the house, add it to their council housing stock and allow its resident to stay. If this fails we will peacefully resist any bailiffs should they be sent to evict the resident. The scale of the crisis The housing crisis hitting Birmingham is twofold.

Firstly there is the crisis that is already upon us, visible across the city. Birmingham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, and the surrounding west Midlands area has the highest rate of any region outside London. Homeless charities in Birmingham have been hit hard and a recent study discovered that homelessness in Birmingham has increased by 25% since 2009. A direct correlation with the 29% cut on the modest spending on homelessness from £7.8m to £5.5m. Those visibly homeless on the streets of Birmingham are merely the tip of the iceberg. The institute of housing reported in January that over 11,000 families in Birmingham are at risk of being unable to afford their homes once housing benefit cuts started to bite. Furthermore in July this year the government declared that many of Birmingham’s families would lose around 20% of their council tax relief. This will add between £200-£500 pounds to many household expenses

Secondly, if the city is going to able to deal with projected population growth the city will need 70,000 new homes by 2026. However, due to the collapse of the construction industry and investors morbidly afraid of another collapse in the housing market, housing construction is at the lowest rate in decades.

Council’s vague plans- “something, something, private sector, something” The Labour Party, currently in power in Birmingham, recognise this crisis and promise to “deal with it”…. But it’s not clear exactly how they plan to do this (Labour Party Local Election Manifesto, PDF, page 13). Their vague three point plan seems to include references to working with the “private sector”, perhaps more discredited private finance initiatives or selling off council owned land at knock down prices to the private sector in the hope they might do something with it. Labour’s vague three point plan includes:-

  • Labour Council will establish new Birmingham housing partnerships with partners in the housing association, private and public sectors to ensure that much of the council’s own land-bank is used for housing-led regeneration, building homes to buy and rent
  • Labour’s new housing partnerships will have a more dynamic and strategic role than existing city housing partnerships
  •  We will require a radical and innovative approach, including working with private developers to build social housing for rent, as well as helping people to buy, including
    initiatives like shared equity schemes

What needs to be done

The scale of the problem is huge it will take serious and concerted action and investment to meet housing needs. Relying on the private sector is not a “radical and innovative” plan of action. The private sector is shrinking and investors are nervous especially about the housing market. Only serious investment by the government could produce confidence in the private sector. Further than that the government, are the only viable sources of money for long term investment of this scale as they can borrow at far lower rates than the private sector.
The government can borrow at about 0.5% almost nothing and considering on average a
Birmingham council house makes £4107 in profit per annum for the council. Loans to
fund new houses be that new builds or bringing empty houses back into use could turn a
serious profit to invest in other badly needed services.

There are over 11,000 empty homes in Birmingham 2.8% of the entire property stock and even more abandoned land. The council has the power to seize abandoned houses and put them back into use as low cost social housing. The problem is large but not insurmountable. The council and the state are equipped with the powers and resources, they are simply unwilling to take action. We are not helpless, we know our areas well. Why bide our time waiting for oversubscribed council homes? Abandoned properties going to waste should be seized by communities and put back to use. This is property one, we are putting it back to use and we will fight for it to be kept in use. If you are homeless, in a hostel or stuck on a friends couch join us. We will help you seize property two, three and four and we will defend it together with you.

Highgate Park Lodge – Squatted

Highgate Park Lodge Squat

In the early hours of Sunday morning, activists appalled at the crackdown on homeless beggars and the council’s lack of action to create badly needed new homes seized one of Birmingham’s 11,000[4] empty properties. The group calling themselves Birmingham Tenants and Homeless Action Group issued a statement on their website[1] condemning the City Council for failing to take action to help the growing homeless population of Birmingham, which has risen by 25%[2] since 2009.

Claire Lister, 23, an activist involved with Birmingham Tenants and Homeless Action Group, said, Homelessness is on the rise and the council is effectively doing nothing, worse – homeless charities have been cut by 29%[2]. Birmingham already has the highest rate of homelessness in the UK[3] and with the incoming housing benefit cuts even more people are going to be at risk of becoming homeless.”

The group are doing up the property to hand over to a homeless person. They say the council, who owns the property, should put it back into use immediately as social housing. Andy Hamilton, 23, said, “This property has been left empty for years now; there is nothing wrong with it. People are living rough on the streets they are getting very ill and even dying. We want this house and others like it to be put back into use right-away to help tackle the housing crisis.”.

John Holland ,25, said “A roof over your head should be a right. 11,000 houses are lying empty[4]; – this place mustn’t be left empty when it could house a family.”

The group are demanding the council put back into use as social housing as many of the 11,000 empty homes as possible to deal with the growing homeless problem.

As of the 1st September a new law (Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 [5]) will come into effect making it illegal to squat residential properties. The group condemn the new law saying that squatting is used by many homeless people as a means of keeping a roof over their heads, the new law is in effect targeting and marginalising society’s most vulnerable.

 

Notes to editors

  1. www.network23.org/bthag
  2. http://www.ssentif.com/archive/10_jul2012.shtml
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jun/09/homelessness-england-data
  4. http://www.emptyhomes.com/statistics-2/ & http://www.emptyhomes.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/empty-homes-stats-20112.xls
  5. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/1956/made

 

Who we are

On Sunday Birmingham Food not Bombs reported a dramatic decrease in the number of homeless people attending their weekly food distribution. Turnout dropping from 30-40 people to less than 10 within an week. They discovered that the police had been following them around and arresting them, with one person reporting six of his friends being arrested in total this week. The week’s arrests are part of an on-going operation started by West Midlands police earlier in the summer to crack down on begging in Birmingham city centre.

The action was criticised by Brum FnB “Harassing and arresting the homeless for begging is counterproductive, time in prison only makes the homeless less employable and more marginalised.”

A few days before this incident the group posted an article to their website detailing the worsening housing crises that is currently affecting the country’s second city.

Key facts form the article include:

  • Birmingham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country
  • 34,500 housing benefit claimants will be chasing 23,000 low-cost houses. That’s 11,500 people who could end up without a home
  • There are 11,924 empty properties in Birmingham
  • Homelessness in Birmingham has increased by 25% since 2009, that’s an extra 558 households.
  • Spend on homelessness has dropped by 29% from £7.8m to £5.5m in the same period.

Following this activists from Birmingham Food not Bombs joined with other local grass-roots groups such as the Birmingham Eviction Resistance Network and the Birmingham Social Centre to form the Brum Tenants and Homeless Action Group which will aim to tackle some of these issues alongside members of the local community as it is quite clear that the council and government are unwilling to do so.

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