In a borough where it is estimated up to 100 people sleep rough every single night, one charity has beenworking behind the scenes to provide shelter, support, food and the chance to rebuild lives.
Now, thanks to a Dacorum Borough Council scheme and the hard work of DENS staff and volunteers over a number of years, those efforts are being brought into the spotlight with a striking pillarbox red building which will help engage the community in its altruistic mission.
Preparation work started on the site in Redbourn Road, known as The Elms, in October 2013, and was developed with the help of the government’s Homeless Change programme with £850,000 of central government funding.
DENS was just one of several organisations invited to bid for the contract to run the shelter, which can sleep 41 and also provide extra accommodation and ‘crash pad’ space in emergencies.
The current night shelter run by DENS in Hemel Hempstead sleeps just 10, so The Elms will see far more people in need benefitting from the charity’s expert help.
Homegrown DENS won the tender for the site and its future manager Paul Latimer – who is himself a former addict who used to be homeless – has thought of everything to ensure that each service user gets everything they need to get their lives back on track.
In fact, around a third of DENS’ staff have come through the charity from the other side.
Paul, 54, said: “DENS gave me a chance 14 years ago – I was homeless and an addict, but when I came back as a volunteer they eventually asked me if I wanted a job.
“I look at myself as being one of the first people that DENS saved and helped get their life back together. Somebody helped me, now I can do it for others. I have been in hostels which are like prisons, but this is not going to be like that.”
Far from being a basic hostel, Paul says the unit will feature a social space where the homeless can interact and relax, as well as IT zones where they can gain qualifications, work on their CVs and apply for jobs.
I think every other council should be working with homeless organisations to get things done. They should follow our lead – it’s a no-brainer.Paul Latimer
In addition, they can get experience and qualifications in areas such as food hygiene, sports, and gardening, with an allotment and training kitchen being built and a variety of sports classes to be offered on and off-site.
Paul has even thought of every eventuality so that no-one is excluded from DENS’ help. The building has disabled access and accommodation, ‘listening posts’ so that those unable to read can still enjoy and learn from books, and there will even be space for dogs to be kept, as Paul says he has had to turn away people in the past who cannot be separated from their pets.
Paul added: “This facility will hopefully eradicate ‘the revolving door’ where people come back to DENS over the years. Now we have a longer time to work with them, and a programme in place for them so they can come out the other end more independent and employable.
“DENS and Dacorum Borough Council have been working really hard to get to this point. I think every other council should be working with homeless organisations to get things done. They should follow our lead – it’s a no-brainer.”
DENS are seeking volunteers to help run the shelter, as well as businesses interested in sponsorship opportunities. Open days are to be held at The Elms during May. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01442 800268. Visit www.dens.org.uk for more on the charity.