Rough Sleepers in Kingston and Murray Bookchin

I have met many rough sleepers on areas of open space over the years, especially on Ham Lands in the neighbouring borough of Richmond. One chap lived on the lands for more than twenty years, a similar amount of time that I spent as a volunteer ranger for the council. When my Jack Russel, Dale, was alive he would make a bee line for the hidden encampment and you wouldn't see him again until he had hoovered up all of the incumbent's discarded Kentucky Fried Chicken bones.

Among the less fortunate people in residence was an  Italian man in his late fifties, who not being able to find work in his home country, decided to relocate here. He chose an area of woodland on the north side of the Lands, which floods with the rising tides. Whilst asleep one winter's night around 1997, he found himself surrounded by water. This meant that  his health was lost, along with his passport, and he ended up with a recurrent chest/lung infection, which I was concerned was TB.

Whilst most of the informal residents kept themselves under the radar of the regular but peripheral Parks Patrol, one young family with their baby, evicted from accommodation in Croydon, decided to make a rather public statement about their homelessness, flinging babies nappies and opened cans of food into the reed bed, where foxes aided their wider distribution.  Clearly this rated high on the anti-social behaviour scale and they were evicted by the Richmond Council.

Once, while undertaking a survey at Richmond Terrace Gardens, I backed into a stand of bushes, only to find myself in a completely spotless formal camp. A carefully positioned tarpaulin,  covered shaving equipment and other personal items. Often these encampments relate to former service personnel or people who cannot afford to pay London's high rents perhaps after a relationship break down, but they are still able to maintain employment.

abandoned tent
Bivouacs or bivvy's are common in places around the north Surrey boundary. These can spill into Kingston, especially in Chessington. Sometimes its hard to tell the difference between the day camps of young people and the night shelters of the homeless. Perhaps on occasion they are even shared. Here there can be evidence of  hunting for food whether it be for wood pigeon or sometimes larger animals are taken. Evidence of food preparation and cooking can be noted.

abandoned tent

Never before have I found so many encampments in the small areas of open space in Kingston, as can be presently seen. Recently, at one site, there were six encampments and one bivouac used as a night shelter.  The problem is when these camps are found by others, they can be routed for any none existant valuables and the few possessions needed to keep warm are scattered to the elements to rot.

Once discovered in this way the inhabitant can feel vulnerable and will move location after picking up another tent from a charitable outlet, perhaps a church. Whenever these people are during the daytime, whether it be at work or sitting outside a shop in Clarence Street, this is a  tough period in their life, which it must be hoped, will be a short time before their lot changes for the better. They are somebodies family member and will one day be in better family circumstances.

These growing problems could face any one  of us, or can affect us in a variety of ways. Perhaps we can help by organising litter picks of the sites in a non-judgemental way in order to reduce the conflict that this cycle of events causes. If you are interested in being involved in a clean up of one the sites particularly affected, particularly Manor Park, please get in touch.

Murray Bookchin (1921–2006), the American thinker who developed the idea of social ecology, was an early contributor to Resurgence. His political ideas grew to reject his early embrace of anarchism and instead develop a form of libertarian socialism he termed Communalism.

Bookchin wrote: “Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. It follows … that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationalities that dominate it. To make this point more concrete: economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today…”


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