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Parks and gardens cleared

May 18 2009
Embankment bye-laws are enforced - even for courting couples Last week saw the start of a two-week after-dark operation to clear the parks and gardens on Embankment, an area with a long history of rough sleeper occupation. Outreach workers and representatives of Westminster City Council spread warnings about the imminent proceedings throughout the resident community weeks in advance, said a spokesperson for the Police's Safer Streets Homeless Unit. Sergeant Julie Hawton, from the Safer Streets Homeless Unit based at Charing Cross Police Station, told The Pavement of the reasons behind this disruptive procedure. "These people [bedding down in the parks] are breaking the law; all public parks and gardens are governed by bye-laws and the laws are there for a reason". A spokeswoman for Westminster confirmed that this move was not another move against a 'hotspot,' but rather enforcing of bye-laws for the parks and gardens. It emerged that the overriding reasons for shifting the homeless out of the parks and gardens at Embankment were largely issues of health and safety: "First, climbing over the gates at night results in accidents," Hawton said. "Only last week a young chap impaled himself on the railings while trying to illegally enter the park". An ambulance was called to the scene and a brief spell of hospitalisation followed. And secondly, "there is nowhere to run [in a park] - if an attacker decides to climb the gates and carry out an assault, the victim is defenceless and without immediate access to help". Operations of this type are far from unique, but rumours passed on by readers that this is a replay of Marylebone Church seem unfounded. This move is part of a regular action that is usually more synonymous with the summer months; the gates are open longer, it's lighter in the evenings and incidents of attacks increase. Similarly, a connection with the clearing of Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, should not be made. Conditions became intolerable there due to the size of its population and because of the rats attracted by the food left, but Embankment has a small population by comparison. Westminster Council assured this paper that the problem was not rat-driven, and as a matter of course the parks and gardens are baited by exterminators every two weeks to control the rodents. There is irony in this move, and some do feel that it's a sharpened double-edge sword: dispersing this population across the capital, away from the shelter provided by the gardens and the mutual support of numbers surely only serves to make the homeless more vulnerable to attacks. Hawton openly admitted that, "It is really sad because most them of don't want to go and put up a lot of resistance. A few characters make it very difficult for us, but they know us well and eventually comply". For years the nightlife of the people on Embankment has revolved around the parks and gardens, and their reluctance to move on is tangible. It is also understandable when the move to a hostel is usually a gradual one, not arranged in a fortnight, and not everyone wants to move into one. So, has it worked? Hawton believes it has. "We went back to the gardens last night and the rough sleepers have not returned. To our amazement, all we found was a courting couple, so it seems to have worked". When asked about what became of the courting couple she said that they were thrown out immediately: "bye-laws are bye-laws".
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