Dear Reader: Helping homeless people + tension over traffic congestion ideas

Positive story - A former homeless person pictured in Harrogate Homeless Project.
Positive story - A former homeless person pictured in Harrogate Homeless Project.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

It’s a newspaper’s job to tell what’s happening and who’s saying what, no matter how shocking.

But I still wasn’t surprised by the controversy generated by this newspaper’s report on street begging and rough sleeping in print and online last week.

Harrogate's incredibly brave Lauren wins top Yorkshire award

On Monday I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the hostel run by Harrogate Homeless Project to interview two people who’d been rough sleepers themselves in the past.

Both were successful people whose lives had been much the same as your’s or mine - until they’d been derailed by a simple twist of fate or circumstances beyond their control.

Were it not for the comfort and support of the volunteers of HHP and Harrogate Borough Council, they might still be living on the streets now – or worse.

When the same local authorities doing such great work tell you that giving a pound to street beggars may no longer be the best way of helping, it’s not something easily ignored by any newspaper.

I understand on a human level this may sound totally wrong.

What complicates the situation is when the people begging or sleeping rough want to make it their lives, whether through fear of ‘entering the system’ and all its rules or from the assessment they can make some sort of living from it.

Thanks to the support they’d received from hard-working charities, the two likable people I met had survived homelessness and ill health to turn their lives around, incredibly so.

Surely that should be the point of all such help?

Traffic congestion - the elephant in the room

The small gathering in a back room of Harrogate’s Cairn Hotel on Monday morning seemed fairly informal for a North Yorkshire County Council affair.

But slight tension hung in the air when the local media were invited to hear about the council’s plans to consult the public on tackling Harrogate and Knaresborough’s traffic congestion problems.

I got that notion when I was told off for mentioning the media briefing that morning online.

“It’s not a public meeting,” I was informed politely.

The council was keen to emphasise to we five members of the local press that any real decisions were a long way off, that all of the suggestions to be put to the public in a questionnaire were only options and that, in any case, there were a lot of them.

But the elephant in the room didn’t budge until one of the council team brought up the subject.

Why were the media ‘fixated’ on just one idea – a possible relief road from Bilton to Forest Lane Head near beauty spot Nidd Gorge?

I was just starting to ponder on the nature of the public consultation and the two ‘packages’ of traffic options, one of which includes the idea of two multi-million pound new roads when I heard a low rumble outside.

As if on cue, a hulking yellow digger with giant tyres drove past our window at the back of the hotel.

Now that’s timing.

Dear Reader: Conflict over new roads in Harrogate + Caught out by Neighbourhood Watch