A neighbour of St John’s Church in Margate has raised concerns about people sleeping rough in the graveyard.
Marci Cerqueti says although people understand the situation of being homeless there has been the need to complain about “graves being used as toilets” and the “awful mess” that is discarded in the grounds, including drink cans and drug paraphernalia.
Marci 62, says she usually enjoys walking in the church grounds with her service dog Madee but has become upset by antisocial behaviour, people taking drugs, mess and also, separately, a lack of bins which means people are leaving rubbish on the ground.
She said: “No-one is doing anything about it. There are around 200 of us who are really concerned about this but we just get told ‘it’s the church’ and then ‘it’s the council’ and ‘it’s the police’ and it just goes round and round without the problem being solved. I even spoke to the council CEO’s assistant and was told it was something they would look into immediately but nothing has happened.”
Marci says there are currently four people sleeping in a tent in the graveyard. She believes the group has been offered assistance by the council’s homelessness team RISE but have turned it down.
She says residents also want to know why the dog waste and rubbish bins have been removed, adding: “St Johns Church was built in the 11 century and has survived Hitler and his Luftwaffe but seems to be losing to Thanet council and budget cuts.”
‘Alleviate the situation’
A spokesperson for St John’s Church said they do as much as possible to help those who find themselves homeless and so use the church as a place of refuge.
They added: “The problems caused by rough sleeping in the graveyard in St John’s has been an ongoing issue for a number of years.
“We do our best to work with all relevant agencies – and in particular the RISE project .We do our best to alleviate the situation and sympathise with both our neighbours and those who are homeless.
“We report any drug taking and anti-social behaviour we witness to the police, and work closely with our PCSO, making our CCTV footage available to them.
“RISE are aware of a young couple presently in the churchyard and are doing everything they can to find them suitable accommodation.”
St John’s is one of the venues that would host the Thanet Winter Shelter project with beds and hot meals before a full-time venue was found during the pandemic.
A Thanet council spokesperson added: “Thanet District Council’s RISE team provides outreach support to anyone identified as sleeping rough. The team regularly visits the individuals sleeping in St John’s Churchyard but doesn’t have the enforcement powers to move them on.
“Sometimes, people sleeping rough are not ready or are unwilling to engage with support services. The RISE team continues with their efforts to help people move into suitable and affordable accommodation.
“The council’s cemetery team manages the upkeep of the grounds and boundaries at St John’s Church, in partnership with the church and others. The cemetery grounds are not owned by Thanet District Council.”
Housing and homelessness advice:
Thanet council Housing Team 01843 577277