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Don't abuse me for my views on Norwich homelessness, debate me

PUBLISHED: 09:19 10 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:33 10 March 2018

More than £1m has been allocated to tackling homelessness in Norwich. Picture: Ian Burt

More than £1m has been allocated to tackling homelessness in Norwich. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

I hope that most of you realise when you read my weekly column that it is my opinion.

I also hope that you, like me, believe that it is essential that we are able to give our opinions freely.

Opinions spark debate; debate sparks ideas; ideas spark action; action sparks solutions.

In the past seven days, I’ve been dismayed by much of the response to my column about Norwich’s homelessness issue, in which I posed some questions - including whether or not soup kitchens are helping to solve it.

The plight of people living on the streets is heartbreaking. It shames Norwich and it shames the UK. But first and foremost it is about the people who face the daily ordeal out in the elements.

Is it any wonder that so many people are driven to give: their money, their time, their food, their energy and their hearts? The need for a sustainable solution that ends the problem must mean that every question is on the table.

It’s such an important issue that I thought there would be at the very least a sensible debate. It’s clear to me that it’s the only way to come up with long-term answers.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I sometimes disagree with myself.

Some people have raised some very important and thought-provoking points in response to my article, challenging how I feel. This paper has published a number of those responses, showing that the ability to fight with reason, not nastiness, is not dead.

But the sensible debate has almost been submerged by a tidal wave of abuse that has left my family and friends deeply hurt.

Things have crossed the line so comprehensively that it’s in another time zone.

Among the little pearls on Twitter and Facebook were that my “parents obviously didn’t love me” when I was growing up, that my children must be ashamed to call me “Dad” and that my parents should disown me.

I am a “vile creature who does not deserve to be called a human being”, “despicable” and so much more.

Some liked to remind others that “he has mental health issues, you know?” Yeah, and you know that how? Because I wrote about it in my Saturday column – the one that you’d like to ban.

Via email and my private Messenger, I’ve been called things that you would not repeat in front of your parents.

I’m also apparently a “so-called journalist”. No, you lovely people, I am an actual journalist. I’ve got the qualification and 26 years’ experience. If I’m not always a good journalist, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t change the title.

It has been like a feeding frenzy, with adulation-seekers swimming to the scene on Twitter and Facebook to join in and add to the abuse - all in the quest for likes and retweets.

All of this because I had the cheek to ask questions that are on the lips of many people who live, work in or visit Norwich city centre.

They are the same questions going around in the heads of the police, the city council and the main charities.

I have since had countless messages of support. But all but a couple want to keep it private because they fear getting the same treatment as me for daring to speak up.

The response is part of a growing and alarming trend towards trying to stymie debate and crush opinion if it doesn’t fit into the right box.

Often the attempts come from people who would think of themselves as totally open, accepting and in favour of freedom of expression.

Maybe they don’t see the conflict.

One person started a petition to get people to boycott the EDP and the Evening News.

Yes, because I wrote something that they did not like, they wanted to lead people away from papers that in just the last few months have:

• Opposed allowance rises for Norfolk county councillors

• Given over an edition entirely to issues around mental health

• Continued to expose the scandal of people who are sick from receiving contaminated blood decades ago

• Written at length and in depth about homelessness

• Raised money for Leeway, to improve facilities for people fleeing domestic abuse, in memory of Kerri McAuley, who was murdered by her former partner Joe Storey.

Tell me, who’s going to do all of those things if you destroy the local press?

I expect every troll and spiteful individual who has insulted me has opinions that they like to share with others. I wonder 
how they’d feel if they were censored - ordered to get in line or shut up.

You have a right to disagree with me, to argue with me and to be bloody exasperated with me. We can have a heated verbal set-to, but it should always end with respect for each other’s right to disagree.

You do not have a right to insult me, bully me, cast aspersions against my parents and upset my children.

I have opinions and I will keep expressing them. Fight clean or get out of the ring.

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