POSTERS claiming that a new health centre for homeless people in the Old Town means “bringing 1100 junkies to a street near you” have been greeted with cross-party condemnation.
Businessman and former rugby international Norrie Rowan has put up the posters in protest at the new homeless service planned for the site of the former Panmure St Ann’s School in South Gray’s Close, off Cowgate.
They show a picture of Labour councillor Ricky Henderson – chair of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, responsible for health and social care in the Capital – with the words “If you want a junkie for a neighbour vote Labour – bringing 1100 junkies to a street near you”.
Mr Rowan also e-mailed all the City Centre ward councillors, telling them: “Your ward is now at tipping point and businesses and residents have had enough. This is not the refuge dump for the rest of the city.”
Asked by the Evening News if he felt his poster was inflammatory, he said: “Good. It’s the only way you can get a reaction.”
But councillors across the political spectrum hit out at his approach.
Tory Joanna Mowat said no-one was shying away from the fact that with or without the centre there were problems in the area which needed to be addressed.
But she said: “Putting out inflammatory leaflets demonising people who have a host of problems doesn’t help anyone.”
And Green councillor Claire Miller said: “I am dismayed at this attack on my colleagues in the Labour Party. This tactic is deeply unhelpful and is not the right way to express any concerns that residents may have about the new centre at Panmure St Ann’s.”
Cllr Henderson said he did not want to “dignify” Mr Rowan’s poster with a response.
But Labour group leader and deputy council leader Cammy Day branded the posters “stupid and childish”.
He said: “There was all-party agreement to develop this project to help people most in need. If this is what a local businessman thinks about vulnerable people in desperate need of support than that’s pretty appalling behaviour. And singling out one elected member is equally appalling behaviour.”
The new centre, due to be completed by 2020, will allow NHS Lothian, the council and third-sector partners to work together to provide services to the homeless population of the Capital.
Ewan Aitken, chief executive of homeless charity Cyrenians Scotland, who was on the steering group for the new project, said: “The service that is going in there used to be just a few yards up the street, so that community has lived cheek by jowl with this community for many years.
“All our citizens have a right to quality healthcare. The idea that some people don’t deserve support and other people do is anathema to the city of Edinburgh and the nation we are part of.
“It’s fundamentally wrong to stigmatise people who are in a difficult reality and make political capital out of other people’s suffering.”