‘Our new home is like Buckingham Palace, I won’t mess this up’

20/12/2011'Feature on Turning Point Hemel Hempstead.'Buddy.
20/12/2011'Feature on Turning Point Hemel Hempstead.'Buddy.

He was sitting on a park bench when the phone rang.

Freezing cold, hungry, penniless, wearing shoes without soles and accompanied by just a small border terrier called Buddy.

20/12/2011'Feature on Turning Point Hemel Hempstead.'Glenda Lee.

20/12/2011'Feature on Turning Point Hemel Hempstead.'Glenda Lee.

Buddy and his owner spent the winter sleeping in a tent.

Unable to find a landlord who would accept pets, Buddy’s owner preferred to live on the streets than live without the dog he considered his best friend, and a crucial catalyst for change as he battled a 25 year heroin addiction.

“I just thought it was never going to get any better” he said. “I was suicidal, really.”

So when Glenda Lee, regional manager at local drug rehabilitation centre, Turning Point, phoned and said someone had come forward offering the two of them a room, he couldn’t believe it.

He said: “To be honest I almost said don’t bother – I’d given up.

“I couldn’t believe something good was happening to me. I thought, what’s in it for him? There must be a catch.”

But there wasn’t. Derek, 50, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, read about the plight of Buddy and his homeless owner in the Gazette and immediately wanted to help.

He said: “I read the article and three quarters of the way through I put the paper down and picked up the phone.

“ I just knew I wanted to help this guy and his dog.”

Derek, whose mother died last October, has two dogs himself and his own experiences meant he could relate to the situation.

“After I lost my mum, my two dogs kept me going. Without them I think I would have lost it.

“I can really empathise with what he was saying about his relationship with Buddy and how important that was to him.“

Derek accepts that living with a former drug addict is a risky business but he firmly believes it’s a risk worth taking.

“All my friends have told me I’m going to get ripped off and I suppose I might do. But what’s the worst that can happen?

“I might lose a computer or a television, but ultimately he’ll be losing a lot more than I will.

“We’ve all made mistakes in life and sometimes we deserve a second chance.”

Derek and Buddy’s owner have met a few times already.

They walked their three dogs, talked openly about their expectations, and Derek invited him round for dinner – beef stew and dumplings. “It was absolutely beautiful” Buddy’s owner said.

And perhaps more importantly, Buddy hit it off with his two new housemates, a German Shepherd called Sasha and a West Highland terrier called Jasmine.

“Two girls. It’s a dream for him, isn’t it? And Sasha’s a right flirt with him too. He absolutely loves it” Buddy’s owner said.

Derek, meanwhile, has been surprised at the person he’s met.

He said: “People hold prejudices against homeless people and to be honest I was no different, but once we sat down and talked I realised he’s just a normal guy.

“He’s got a great sense of humour, a good heart and he can certainly eat.

“I’ve told him my aim is to get him fatter than me – he’s got a long way to go yet!”

The arrangement will entail a compulsory three-way meeting every month with Glenda at Turning Point and Derek knows that if he ever has any concerns he only has to pick up the phone.

But the Good Samaritan insists there’s no need to over-complicate things.

“I’m not putting down lots of ground rules,” he said.

“All I’ve said is treat each other with respect, the house with respect and respect each other’s privacy. It’s his house and I want him to feel at home.”

It’s an attitude that Buddy’s owner appreciates and he believes it’s up to him to repay Derek’s generosity.

“The first thing Derek said was: ‘I’m not offering you a room. I’m offering you a home.’

“That was just an incredible thing to say.

“I’ve not made the smartest choices in my life but I’m not going to mess this up for anyone.

“Derek calls it a modest home but to me it’s Buckingham Palace.”

Glenda is busy sorting out what benefits Buddy’s owner could claim to help him contribute to rent but Derek insists the only thing that needs sorting is the new room.

“I’ve bought him some paint and some brushes. Once he’s renovated his room he’s free to move in whenever he’s ready.”

Glenda believes it’s a shining example of what can be achieved when the local community comes together.

She said: “It takes a community to raise addicts and homeless people out of trouble.

“These are tough times at the moment and stories like this remind us that there are good people out there with big hearts. No doubt about it, Derek’s a hero.”