Dee Dee Help the Homeless: Meet the superwoman on a crusade to help Hackney's needy
PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:26 29 September 2016
You hear about charities doing great work to help the homeless, but you don't often come across individuals devoting their life to it. Sam Gelder went down to Hackney Town Hall on Sunday to meet a woman doing just that.
Donna “Dee Dee” Farrugia is a woman on a mission. She spends her days giving donated food, drink and clothes to homeless people across east London, just because she cares.
This weekend the Gazette met her outside Hackney Town Hall, where she and her small team of volunteers set up a monthly session that has become the talk of the streets.
As well as a hot, home-cooked meal and a cup of strong black coffee, the day’s menu includes warm clothes, sleeping bags, shoes (very popular) and free haircuts courtesy of gender-neutral hairdressers Barberette, based up the road in Downs Road, Clapton.
Dee Dee Helps the Homeless isn’t a charity and doesn’t make any money. Dee Dee even has her own serious health problems to deal with. But she’s not thinking about any of that.
“We did our first one last Christmas,” she said. “I just came across so many homeless people on the streets. I thought, if you can’t give them anything else, at least give them a hot drink and a sandwich.
“There were five of us from Slimming World driving round in the car and helping out whoever we came across.”
She set up a Facebook group for like-minded people and the idea took off.
There are now 986 members who regularly donate and about 10 who volunteer their time.
Between 50 and 70 people turn up to the town hall on the last Sunday of every month. Dee Dee is also around Hackney for drop-ins twice a week. “There’s a variety of things people ask for,” she said. “Sleeping bags; pillows; raincoats are popular.”
The aim now is to raise enough to buy a van, so she can carry even more supplies. She’s also keen to deflect the credit and names Tracey England as playing a pivotal role in the operation.
Then there’s her best friend Seher Omer, who is just as enthusiastic about their work. “We need people to know what we are doing, so they all know we are here!” she stresses. “It’s such a brilliant project.
“I do the cooking. I don’t even care if they’ve got accommodation. If they can’t afford food we are there to help.
“It’s a shame more people from the community aren’t doing enough. Dee Dee isn’t 100 per cent herself but she doesn’t care. She couldn’t get out of bed this morning but she said to me: ‘I’ve got to do it because if we are not there I’m letting them down’.”
One man who is eternally grateful for the helping hand is 40-year-old Andy Hutchinson.
Andy comes from a military family in west London but his drug addiction landed him on the streets. He’s been clean for two years and still hasn’t been able to escape the vicious cycle of homelessness.
His story is a wake-up call for anyone apathetic towards homeless people.
“This [Hackney] is where housing sent me three years ago,” he said. “They told me there was a place for me here but there wasn’t.
“There’s no way out of it. Not everybody spends their money on drink and drugs, but if you tell people you are homeless they look straight through you.
“I have been for interviews, but you’re lost if you ain’t got a home. Dee Dee has helped me out with shoes. When you’ve got no money and your shoes are gone you can’t go out looking for work.
“If you have any problems she’ll help. If she could, she’d have us all in her house! Dee Dee is a lifesaver.
“Shelters attract people who aren’t very nice.
“You put something down, it’s gone. Here everyone is polite, there’s no queue jumping, no arguing about who gets the last piece of bread.
“To know someone cares is amazing. A lot of these people wouldn’t get to eat if it wasn’t for her.”
Dee Dee Help the Homeless is not a charity, but is in need of a helping hand all the same.
Dee Dee is specifically asking for storage space, food and drink, toiletries, hats, gloves and scarves, underwear and socks, sleeping bags, backpacks, food containers and cutlery.
Last but not least, Dee Dee is looking for someone to donate a van so she can carry all the donated supplies.
You can get in touch by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter (@DeeDeeHTH) or Facebook (join the group “Dee Dee Help the Homeless”).