I met a wonderful woman called Dettie last year. A qualified nurse, parent of five adult children and all-round wonder woman she runs a charity for the homeless here in town. Many of the people she looks after are suffering from alcohol or drug misuse, some have been released from prison, others have been thrown out by their parents or partners. All of them need the basics that most of us take for granted: shelter, food, comfort and love. Dettie and her small team find people a place to live and support them to develop skills to aid their recovery and build their self esteem. They do all this work without any government financial support, relying on benefactors and local churches.
With the assistance of my young friend Dave we are making a video to help promote the charity. And so yesterday, on one of the coldest days of the year, well wrapped up, we went to a local park so that Dave could film Dettie as she told her story. As we wondered through the park to find a good spot to sit Dettie told us of homeless people who sleep in the park. Under the bandstand, even in the bushes. Because there is no night stop in Loughborough, nowhere for them to go. Sometimes an uncaring police officer will move them on. Apparently it’s illegal to sleep outside. I could not imagine how anyone could survive the current freezing temperatures. One of the homeless is a 67 year old man and he was without a sleeping bag until Dettie gave him one.
Loughborough is quite an affluent town. I understand that it has one of the wealthiest student populations for a university town. Perhaps because of the elite athlete students whose parents have paid for sport tuition. Many of the Olympic athletes are training here. But like most towns it has a side that is hidden if you live ‘on the right side of town’. Dettie told us that homeless people are not always identifiable. They try to keep themselves clean and generally feel ashamed of their predicament. The problem is likely to get worse as the cuts bite.