Ten years on, homegrown homeless charity DENS is still growing - but so is the need

Now that the evenings are getting longer, the sun is seen again in the sky and summer is just around the corner, we can safely stop worrying about the homeless, can’t we?

When the thermometer dips below freezing point in the depths of the winter, it’s easy to reach us with appeals to help those without a roof over their heads. We can identify with the prospect of being forced to sleep rough, frozen to the bone and even putting our lives at risk through the lack of warmth and shelter.

But that’s all behind us for a few months, isn’t it? Come back in November, and we’ll be ready to put our hands in our pockets again.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Most people are aware of the work of Dacorum’s Emergency Night Shelter, but what they don’t realise is that the shelter itself is just a small part of the organisation’s work.

DENS has grown over the past 10 years from a church-led shelter scheme in the winter months to an organisation which does much more than offer a bed for the night to those in desperate need.

Today’s DENS – and that’s the name, because although it’s still firmly based in the borough it has a much wider reach than the shelter which was its initial inspiration – is not just about somewhere to put your head down. It’s about support, practical training and a step by step process which, with hard work and determination on the part of the individual, can lift people up and help them turn their lives around so that they don’t need to knock on the door of the shelter, looking for somewhere to stay.

Help in a crisis is still a big part of the brief. The night shelter in Apsley is full to bursting every night, mainly with young men for whom homelessness is just one of the problems they are having to overcome.

There’s also the day shelter on the edge of Gadebridge Park and the Dacorum Foodbank, a growing operation which helps anyone who is struggling to make the price of the next meal for themselves, or for their children.

But just as important are the next steps in what you could call the DENS care pathway.

Chief executive Andrew Liversedge is a passionate but pragmatic man who is clear about what the organisation is all about – helping people who need help to reclaim their lives.

That starts with getting you stabilised – through the shelters, through a pack of food to tide you over for a few days – but it never stops there.

The next steps can involve short-term housing, a longer-term home through the Rent Aid scheme, and continuing assessment, education and training that aims to lift people up from the bottom rung.

It’s not easy to measure the results or the savings to the public purse, but the admirable aim is to help people, step by step, to stand on their own two feet.

But all of this costs money, of course. DENS has paid staff – dwarfed in number by the ranks of volunteers who swell the ranks – and other overheads, and is as affected by any other charity struggling to with a surge in demand for its services and less money available from the public purse.

So even though the sun is shining, the need is still there - and there are lots of ways that you can help.

Find out more about the charity’s work, and ways to get involved, at www.DENS.org.uk