Ex-Great Britain swimmer sleeping rough in graveyard ‘unable to access pension’

A woman who once represented Great Britain and Canada and who dedicated part of her life to helping others has now ended up homeless.

Laranie McHendrie Decaire, 64, is currently living on a piece of cardboard or a bench in a church graveyard in London after losing all her finances.

Laraine, who has been homeless for four years, said she paid into her pension but the system failed her and left her destitute.

She represented Great Britain and Canada in swimming competitions around the world in the 1980s.

She studied at university in London and Canada, gaining a degree from McGill University – one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Laranie also worked as a nanny and social worker abroad – travelling the world and creating happy memories for herself as she made the most of life.

But that all changed when she retired in England in the late 1990s.

Laranie (pronounced ‘Lorraine) explained how she ended up sleeping rough as she said: “Unfortunately I lost my finances.

“I ended up in my situation actually because of changes in the system, and theft and fraud and different things like that.

“I paid into the system probably since the age of 14, whilst [I was] still at school, but I worked in all sorts of things since 11.

“But they changed the age of retirement, so now it’s 66. So two pensions that I’ve paid for got moved, so I’m not eligible for that.

“It’s a totally different world now – where you looked forward to your retirement and you did pay into the system, and it’s taken away from you.”

Having lost her flat, belongings and money, Laranie turned to the system for help.

She visited the job centre every day for over a month to prove she was living in London before being given a penny.

The former swimmer was then told if she was to continue to accept any sort of benefits, she would legally have to pay it back when she got the pension she paid.

Having no previous mental health problems and no children under 16, Laranie was unable to meet the strict criteria for social housing, and did not qualify for help.

She said: “I just didn’t tick the boxes. I was determined to do what the system required. But I did not give in to lying, it’s against my morals and my faith.

“So for the last four years, I have existed on absolutely no money whatsoever.”

The 64-year-old added: “I’ve been lucky that I’ve volunteered, and through volunteering I’ve had access to food.”

But with no money, living family and place to call home, Laranie has endured life on the streets.

It’s been described as “a dangerous and difficult place for her to survive” by charity worker Vicki Mcgarrigle.

Vicki and Monica White, who volunteer for homeless charity Under One Sky (UOS), have been trying to get Laranie off the streets, but have struggled to even get the 64-year-old a free bus pass because she does not have an address.

Monica said: “Free bus passes should be going to people like Laranie.”

Laranie is a keen artist, but her arthritis which has become worse from being outdoors means she is unable to draw or crochet as much.

“I’ve been very blessed mentally and physically up until now,” she said, “but now I have arthritis, it’s become extremely difficult physically to remain in that situation.”

Vicki said: “She hardly ever complains. She doesn’t drink or abuse any substances. She doesn’t even swear, and her faith has kept her strong, but a woman of her age should absolutely not be on the streets.

“Sadly, her homeland has let her down and the system is failing Laranie, and many like her.”

The number of people permanently living rough on London’s streets increased by nearly a quarter in three months, CHAIN data shows.

Up to 412 people were living on streets in the capital between October and December 2020, compared to 336 during the three months before.

Vicki and a few other friends who volunteer for UOS have started a campaign toget Laranie off the streets.

Although it has had a good response, one fifth of the donations have already been spent, and that has only paid for Laranie to be in a hotel for two weeks.

Vicki said: “We’re fearful that without help and affordable accommodation Laranie could end up back on the streets which would be absolutely devastating.

“The fact that just after a week inside and out of the cold the arthritis in her hand went down considerably… proves that living on the streets is negatively impacting her health.”

Despite her situation, Laranie is always determined to think of other people and remain positive.

She said: “I’m very blessed that my past and people in my life have made me strong enough to endure this, and I just hope for future that things can get better for everybody.”