Sheila Gilmore: Piershill residents need proper support

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This Tuesday I learnt of the appalling act of violence against a 12-year-old girl, who was attacked because of the colour of her skin.

Together with residents across Edinburgh, I am disgusted at the violence and pain the girl and her family have suffered. Racism is not and will not be tolerated in this city.

Only last Friday I was in Piershill Square East speaking to residents about the way the council reacts to antisocial behaviour. We discussed the same issues that were printed in the Evening News – youths congregating and drinking alcohol, while drug dealing takes place in stairs, and residents live in fear.

People wonder why more isn’t being done to protect the families who pay their council tax, bring their children in on time and let their neighbours live in peace. The residents I spoke to in Piershill want to see drug dealers evicted and CCTV installed. If the council is serious about tackling this behaviour it needs to look at its attitude to the problem as well as how it uses the resources that are available.

I regularly speak to constituents who have recorded antisocial behaviour incident diaries for more than two years. That is usually two years of strangers in the stairwell coming and going, two years of music playing in the middle of the night, and two years of being told they need more evidence before the council can act.

An 85-year-old constituent of mine, who was determined not to be forced out of her own home of 60 years despite being terrified by the behaviour of the man upstairs and his drinking mates, is another example. She did all the right things, reporting every incident despite her fear, and waited. Again, it took two years for action to be taken while other residents simply moved out rather than put up with it.

The interests of the majority have to be protected. But in both housing and social policy there can be an over-emphasis on the support needs of the perpetrator.

The Scottish Government strategy to deal with problem tenants and their families requires support services to take steps to encourage “prevention, integration, engagement, and communication”. But residents are looking for prevention, intervention, enforcement and rehabilitation – and local and national government need to tune into this.

From experience, I have seen that behaviour can actually change if people see that the council means business.

One thing which would help an area like Piershill Square would be for the council to restore the “community concierge” squads to full strength. These have been halved in size by the Lib Dem/SNP council since it took power in 2007. The squads were the eyes and ears on the ground to spot possible trouble early on.

The council needs specialist solicitors to make sure that they work to beat antisocial behaviour, rather than relying on the standard legal team.

Communities like those in Piershill want the assistance of an investigation team so that neighbours fearful of becoming involved are helped when it comes to collecting evidence.

My 85-year-old constituent took her responsibilities as a citizen seriously. She has the right to expect neighbours to do likewise and, if they won’t, the right to expect local and national government to support her.

Those plagued by unacceptable behaviour should not be left feeling that their only option is to move.

Alisha and her family have suffered too much at the hands of these youths, but it should not have got to this stage in the first place.

For the future, we need to make sure the resources and commitment are there so that these situations are dealt with fairly, effectively, and quickly.