Elite swimmer who became homeless transforms life with strangers' £38k

Homeless former elite swimmer Laraine McHendrie-Decarie with volunteers Vicki Mcgarrigle and Monica White

Homeless former elite swimmer Laraine McHendrie-Decarie (left) with volunteers Vicki Mcgarrigle and Monica White - Credit: Courtesy of Monica White

A former elite swimmer who had been living on the streets for five years is turning her life around thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Laraine McHendrie-Decarie, who went to Collenswood School in Stevenage - the class of 1974, had been rough sleeping since retiring in 2016.

Locked out of her state pension after the qualifying age changed to 66, and waiting on her private pension, Laraine, 64, says she lost everything she owned through identity fraud.

Huddled each night on the doorstep of a London church, she slept alone on a piece of cardboard.

Vicki Mcgarrigle and Monica White are volunteers with Under One Sky - a group supporting rough sleepers - and met Laraine last April.

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In her youth, Laraine was in the running for the Great Britain swimming team, and represented Canada in the 1986 World Swimming Masters in Tokyo after moving there as a nanny. She was a North Herts county coach and taught at Stevenage Swimming Centre in the late 1970s, as well as working as a play leader and youth worker in the town.

Laraine is a university graduate, fluent in French, a trained social worker and a missionary, having worked with the Catholic Church in France supporting refugees.

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Vicki said: "She travelled the world and had a good life. On her return to the UK, she found she had lost her flat and belongings. She struggled to get any support and found herself on the streets.

"Once out of the system, it’s very hard to get back in.  Despite being born in the UK, and having worked her whole life paying into two pensions, the streets are all she could call home, and they have been a dangerous and difficult place for her to survive."

Vicki set up a Go Fund Me page to raise enough money to get Laraine into a rented room or bedsit. So far, more than £38,000 has been raised and Vicki said: "At this rate, she could buy her dream house. Talk about a dream come true."

Laraine is staying in a hotel while more permanent accommodation is arranged, and has just completed a basic IT course with a view to securing a job.

She said: "Vicki and Monica are like angels from heaven."

Vicki said: "If we can improve a single person’s life, one at a time, we can make such a difference."

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