Sunday, 25 December 2016

Rough Sleepers, Rough Justice: A Christmas Tale

I've had a bad week. A cold became raging tonsillitis, which became a raging dental abscess which has laid me low for the past seven days. I'm not a particularly patient patient. What gets me through the misery of these acute, seasonal illnesses is knowing that in a matter of days I'll be back to full health (which I will be very soon).

Being stuck at home hasn't meant I've been cut off from the world. I have watched with growing horror how the abscess in my mouth has become the perfect metaphor for the abscess in our Town Hall.

Raging Abscess

As the entire world now knows, Peterborough City Council (to be fair, not every single one of the city councillors, but a core group of Conservatives) continue to treat the homeless people in our city with utter contempt. You have already read how Peterborough City Council has made 74 families homeless in order to provide emergency accommodation for other homeless families. If you thought national embarrassment, including a basting on BBC1's The One Show, would have been more than enough to make the city council think very carefully about how it treats homeless people in the future you would be just like me: dead wrong.

Article from Peterborough Telegraph
Article from Peterborough Telegraph

On Thursday, the Peterborough Telegraph reported that Peterborough City Council has hired a security firm to 'patrol Peterborough city centre to remove rough sleepers' for 19 days over the Christmas period.

You read that correctly.

How to Blow £8k in 19 Days

If you're a Peterborough resident your council tax is paying for this 'service' to the tune of £8,000. The area of 'Peterborough city centre' that is of particular concern to the city council is a passage known as St Peter's Arcade, which is a literal stone's throw from the Town Hall on Bridge Street.

First St Michael's Gate, now St Peter's Arcade. If you live on a street named after a saint perhaps you ought to start looking over your shoulder too (I think I'm joking). I wonder, when you voted for your city councillors, did you think you were voting to give them permission to spend your money in this way?

I felt well enough to take a trip out today (Christmas Eve) and wandered down to St Peter's Arcade. There are still people sleeping rough there. Clearly, it doesn't please me to think of anyone sleeping rough in our city. Nor am I pleased that £8k that might have been spent on something positive for our city's homeless people has been spent on what appears to be little more than an exercise in personal vanity and public flexing of muscle by the city councillors involved. But I smiled inwardly to see that the city council's attempt to 'vanish' our homeless people from our streets has failed. Because it's not legal you see. So it's both a disgraceful treatment of fellow humans and a disgraceful squandering of public money.


I surely speak for growing number of residents when I say that we don't want the people who are homeless to be 'vanished' from public view like so much fly tip. People become homeless for myriad reasons and once homeless the struggle to get life back on track is mammoth. Just this week, the charity Crisis published a new report highlighting the abuse that rough sleepers routinely face on British streets. Now Peterborough has been linked with this report in the worst possible way (read this article in The Mirror - that's our city they're talking about).

I can say with certainty that the people of Peterborough are characterised by kindness, sympathy and understanding towards people who are going through hard times, and these increasingly bizarre decisions taken on our behalf but without any consultation by the city council are considered by many people here to be nothing short of a disgrace.

Peterborough's 'Christmas Tree' is best viewed with your back to it
Peterborough's 'Christmas Tree' is best viewed with your back to it

St Peter's Arcade is situated opposite another seasonal city council project that many residents find offensive: the £40k glowing pyramid that is supposed to pass for a Christmas tree. Ask most Peterborough people and they will tell you that they want a real tree, decorated with baubles and lights and a fairy on the top. You know... Christmassy. I'm quite sure we could have just that for less than £40,000. The council justifies the spend by insisting that it will be used year after year. Well, it would have to be used for at least a decade to stand a chance of being more environmentally friendly than an annual succession of real trees owing to the huge carbon footprint created by its production. I don't wish to be crude, especially at Christmas (there has been more than enough of that already), but there's more taste in my mouth, particularly since my abscess burst.

Talk is Cheap

It's easy for me to write this. What difference do words make? This afternoon, on behalf of Peterborough Green Party, my colleague Roger donated snacks and warm clothing to Youngsters Unity, an organisation in Peterborough that tonight held an event for our city's homeless people where they could have a warm meal and food and some clothing to take away with them. I know that's a small gesture and it didn't cost us very much. But doesn't it make you think what good £48,000 could do? Antibiotics have cleared up my tonsillitis and soon my abscess will be drained and gone because I have received the right care at the right time to get me back on my feet. Homelessness is a complex issue that requires a sensitive, long-term, multi-agency response that recognises that homeless people have genuine and complicated needs and that doesn't seek to either vanish or criminalise them.

Merry Christmas.

Poster advertising the Christmas Eve event organised by Youngsters Unity
Poster advertising the Christmas Eve event organised by Youngsters Unity


  1. That money could have provided somewhere for those people to sleep in the warm. I have been led to believe that two people died from the cold over Christmas. I bet the Council are proud.