Although I don’t live within the imaginary walls around Bristol, I am nonetheless a Bristol boy through and through and that is why I am deeply ashamed that an average of 97 people are sleeping rough every night in this great city. There may be a number of reasons for this but to my mind one is too many. As a human being, it breaks my heart. Then I read that Bristol is to spend some £175,000 in bringing the cycling Tour of Britain to the city. Shouldn’t I be annoyed?
Well, no I’m not at all annoyed, thank you very much, and for once I find myself in the same camp as Mayor Ferguson.
I have seen the argument, such as it is, that we should not be spending all that money on a cycling event when there are people sleeping on the streets. Much as I am utterly appalled and ashamed by the latter, I cannot compare the two. They are not remotely linked. Paying out a relatively small sum to bring such a prestigious even to Bristol is an investment. It will bring in business, visitors and – yes, that ugly word – money. It may well even create jobs. And our hardworking council taxpayers will be able to enjoy a world class sporting event from their doorsteps. I see all of this as positive.
Now, back to people who are sleeping rough on the streets. I could not imagine anything worse, especially on a day like today when it’s frankly absolutely freezing. I got cold through just watching planes take off at Bristol Airport this morning and had to take a long, hot shower to thaw out when I got home. Someone living on the street cannot usually do that. The lifespan of a rough sleeper is not usually a long nor happy one.
The point is that the politicians will only do something about the homeless and the rough sleepers if we get angry enough about it. And if they are likely to get embarrassed when a major event comes to town, like the Tour of Britain. Would a politician with the ego and self-importance of George Ferguson like to welcome tourists and visiting businessmen if the streets were packed with some of the poorest people in Bristol? Perhaps that might even force him to do something about it.
Housing the homeless and staging a sporting event are not dependant on each other. We can do both if we have the desire and inclination. For God’s sake don’t conflate the two. There’s more than enough to go around if we care enough.