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Health fears from homeless camp beside the River Medway in Barming, Maidstone

There are growing concerns over a risk to health caused by an encampment of homeless people on the banks of the River Medway.

At least three tents have been pitched amongst the undergrowth on the Barming side of the river, approximately 100 yards along from the Tovil footbridge in the direction of East Farleigh.

The camp's occupiers are using the bushes as a latrine and there are faeces and toilet wipes spread around.

The encampment of homeless people
The encampment of homeless people

Gary Clarkson from Beaconsfield Road, Tovil, who regularly walks his dog along the public footpath just below the camp, said; "It's disgusting. There are human faeces and other litter. They've been there three weeks and nothing has been done."

The site is becoming a health hazard
The site is becoming a health hazard

But Mr Clarkson said the local authorities were at fault for allowing the footpath to become overgrown.

He said: "When it was created two years ago, it was lovely. Six foot wide with plenty of room. Now it's all over grown and so badly maintained you have to turn sideways on to avoid being stung by nettles in places.

"The council just hasn't cared for it and that's probably encouraged the campers, because they think that if the council can't maintain this new path, no one will be bothered if they live there. "

The footpath was once six feet wide (14651838)
The footpath was once six feet wide (14651838)

Another resident Mary Callow agreed. She said: "The path towards Barming from East Farleigh is almost impassable. We as dog walkers are supposed to share the path with cyclists, mobility scooters etc. It is not only the width but also the height of the weeds, mainly nettles which makes it impossible to see an oncoming cyclist."

A third dog-walker, who asked not to be named, said: "There is also a lot of broken glass in the area on and off the footpath.

"Unfortunately my dog cut his paw on some of it last week resulting in a £90 vet bill and no walkies for at least a week"

A Maidstone council spokesman said: "During the last few days we have been made aware that a group of four EU nationals are now sleeping rough on the banks of the River Medway in Barming.

"We know of these individuals and have been working with them for some time and continue to try to do so.

"Unfortunately as they are not exercising their EU Treaty Rights they are unable to claim housing benefits so accommodation options are very limited. We are liaising with the immigration service in order to try and resolve the situation.

"Our Street Population team have recently successfully placed three additional members of this group into accommodation who did decide to exercise their EU Treaty Rights."

The spokesman added: "The council developed the team to tackle the number of people sleeping rough on the streets in the borough to help rough sleepers to rebuild their lives. Within the last 12 months, the outreach team have reduced rough sleeping by 80%.

"The team continues to support many individuals with complex needs who now live in their own accommodation. This approach has seen a reduction in anti-social behaviour and other associated issues and been recognised by partner agencies, including the police."

During a one-night count of those sleeping rough in September 2018, 48 people were sleeping on the streets. The most recent count in July found five rough sleepers.

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