BBC documentary explores housing crisis in Barking and Dagenham
15:01 18 October 2016
Dealing with up to 2,000 people a month, the council’s housing department is a hive of activity.
Last year a staggering 26,458 people visited John Smith House (JSH) in Barking in a desperate attempt to avoid homelessness – a figure which caught the eyes of TV bosses.
And after nine months of shadowing those working to alleviate the housing crisis, documentary No Place to Call Home will be broadcast on BBC Two tomorrow.
Emma Simmons – who runs the borough’s only dedicated homeless night shelter, Hope 4 Barking and Dagenham – is among those featured.
But it was only by chance that the mum-of-five was included at all.
“They never set out to film us,” the 33-year-old explained. “It was just going to be about the council.
“But as every single person referred from JSH is given my phone number, they got in contact and followed us around from February to May.
“I kept forgetting they were in the room, except when I was being interviewed.”
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Hakeem Osinaike, the council’s operational director of housing management, believes the documentary is “fair and balanced” – although fitting nine months worth of filming into an hour-long documentary means some issues are skirted over.
“If you’re not a housing expert you might think ‘what is going on here?’” the 48-year-old said.
“A lot of the decisions that are talked about in the programme are the result of government policy and legislation and it’s important to bear that in mind.
“We have lost 50 per cent of our housing stock since 1980 and we just don’t have space for everyone that wants it.”
Unite group in 2013, the scheme currently offers food and shelter for 17 people and is run entirely on public donations.
From next month it will offer a permanent service for the first time in its history, having previously closed during the summer months.
“Some of them have been sleeping on the streets for a couple of years before coming to us, so when we set about getting them re-housed we really do have to take things back to basics,” Emma explained.
“We deal with so many families it’s truly saddening. Homelessness really can happen to absolutely anyone.
“If you lose your job and can’t get another one, or don’t take out a loan, and get into rent arrears, the council will say you’re voluntarily homeless and blacklist you.
“We’ve had dentists, teaching assistants – it really is frightening because I see so many similarities in a lot of these people with myself.”
Before Right to Buy was introduced in 1980, the council boasted a housing stock of 38,000.
Since then, 49 per cent, equating to 18,778 homes, have been lost – despite a current housing waiting list of 8,798 people.
Evicted from childhood home
Ricky Lovell, who was evicted from his childhood home this year, is featured in the programme after appearing in the Post.
He returned to Marlborough Road, Dagenham, in March 2015 to care for his mum, who died eight months later.
Although he spent the majority of his life in the three-bed house, the law states applicants must have lived in a home for a year to have succession rights to a council property. Ricky now lives in Cambridge.
Barking and Dagenham Council housing officer Simone Bousefield works at JSH in Bevan Avenue and understands the extent of the issue better than most.
“We want to help everyone but the reality is that we just can’t – I do have to give out bad news, which can be hard,” she said.
“I’m a Dagenham girl so it’s great to be helping out my people, and we do get nice feedback, sometimes people will come in with a box of [Cadbury] Roses or something.
“But on the flipside we do get a lot of abuse, mainly verbal but sometimes physical.”
Despite the dangers – police are called on a regular basis – she bears no grudges.
“Nobody wants to be in that situation,” the 48-year-old added.
“The fact they’re in JSH means all other avenues have been exhausted.
“For us it’s a job, but for them it can mean eviction. I can totally understand why people get angry.”
No Place to Call Home will be aired on BBC Two at 9pm tomorrow.
Click here for more information about housing in the borough.