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Newham mayor recounts homeless years spent ‘sofa-surfing’ at charity reception

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 December 2018

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz recounted her family's eight years 'sofa-surfing'. Picture: Marianne Chua Photography

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz recounted her family's eight years 'sofa-surfing'. Picture: Marianne Chua Photography

Marianne Chua Photography

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz recounted her personal experience of homelessness at a charity reception at the House of Lords.

Caritas Anchor House chief executive Amanda Dubarry. Picture: Marianne Chua PhotographyCaritas Anchor House chief executive Amanda Dubarry. Picture: Marianne Chua Photography

“When I was 16, we lost our beautiful, family home,” said Ms Fiaz, who was elected mayor back in May.

“Myself, my three siblings and parents lived in temporary accommodation for around eight years, and we spent a period ‘sofa-surfing’ in my uncle’s overcrowded home.

“It took my family some ten years to recover, but the trauma of losing your home never leaves you.”

The Labour politician was speaking at an event organised by Canning Town non-profit Caritas Anchor House, which centred around the country’s homelessness crisis.

There are about 320,000 homeless people in England, with statistics released by charity Shelter revealing Newham as the nation’s homeless hotspot.

One in every 24 people in the borough are without homes, the figures show.

At Monday’s reception, hosted by Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, Ms Fiaz went on to thank the Barking Road-based charity, calling them “a formidable charity delivering a profoundly important service”.

Speakers included Ibrahim, one of the 262 rough sleepers the charity supported last year. He lived in his parents’ home in Newham, but became a rough sleeper after falling out with family members.

“I’ve got GCSEs and A-levels from a local school, and even achieved a Level 5 accredited course in English teaching,” he told the 250 or so guests.

“Things were looking up for me; I never envisaged that I would become homeless.

“I ended up sleeping rough, and couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. It was late autumn when the first gust of wind hit me, then it dawned on me how serious my situation was. I was absolutely terrified.”

Amanda Dubarry, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Home is not just about a place, it’s about how you feel. You can’t put a value on that, and I can see that every day in the work that Caritas Anchor House does.

“Here, people move in and move on, connections are made, confidence is built, skills grow, barriers are broken and difficulties are eased. It’s a place where people believe in you.”

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