Few places encapsulate society’s divide better than St Peter’s Arcade, a tiny walkway filled on one side with revellers drinking in the trendy Argo Lounge and on the other rough sleepers huddling under their sleeping bags.
The pathway to and from Bridge Street has become a focal point for Peterborough’s attempt to answer its homelessness riddle, but despite the city council throwing two security guards into the mix at a cost of £8,000 the huddled masses sleeping inside the arcade continues to growalthough by Wednesday the arcade was clear.
The Peterborough Telegraph’s story a fortnight ago outlining the council’s £424 a day spend on the ‘bouncers’, as they have been referred to, has drawn anger and ridicule, especially when it became clear that they were only there to advise homeless people about what help was available and to report incidents of anti-social behaviour to police.
But, when the Peterborough Telegraph spoke to some of the rough sleepers in the arcade last Thursday they said they did not feel like they were getting much help from the authorities.
One rough sleeper, who would not give his name, said: “Argo get on with us. They came out and gave us Christmas cards and cups of tea. The only people who do not like us are rich people.
“[The guards] have been sound. They walk through and make sure we are alright. We chat and they give us fags.
“They make sure no-one causes us any trouble.
“People leave stuff here because they trust us. At Christmas they give you presents and money, and they like us enough to give us food.
“We do not ask for anything. People give us stuff without us asking. They give us coffee and McDonald’s.”
The arcade has filled up with the personal belongings of the rough sleepers who said they liked the security from the guards and Argo Lounge’s CCTV camera.
The homeless man who would not be named said he was on the streets because his partner had failed to pay rent at the place that they shared.
He said he only moved to the city centre because he was forced to move out of abandoned cars in Fengate, and he echoed the words of other people the PT has spoken to by saying he was denied a temporary place to stay by the council because he had a dog.
The council disputes that this is the case.
He added: “I’m quite happy doing what I do. I would rather not have a house - it’s a lot of responsibility. At the end of the day people can’t say anything about us being here because they don’t have to live here.”
Two of the other rough sleepers in the arcade were from Poland and spoke very broken English.
One called Belinda said: “No working, no ID. Council no help. I sleep here seven days.”
The other, called Leszek, said he had received a P45.
Asked how long he will sleep rough in the city centre, he said: “Maybe one day, one week.”
Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, council deputy leader, vowed last month to sort out anti-social behaviour at the arcade, such as needles being left behind. He said he would not comment on paying £8,000 for the security guards as it is not part of his cabinet portfolio, but he added: “I’ve had it confirmed we offered help to all rough sleepers.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”