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Former rough sleeper says Leicestershire’s homeless problem ‘worse than ever’

A Leicestershire man who ate from skips as a rough sleeper claims the area’s homeless crisis is ‘worse than ever’.

Once a promising footballer with dreams of playing for Leicester City, Enton Barefoot slept under a bridge after becoming addicted to drink and drugs.

Picture: Enton Barefoot

“At night I’d urinate outside my tent to keep foxes away – but ending up on the street saved my life,” recalled Enton.

“That realisation of how hard I’d fallen sobered me up and got me clean.

“But that was almost 20 years ago, and my heart breaks for anybody in that situation now because the support for anybody who falls through the cracks is vanishing by the day.”

He’s now backing the Leicester CEO Sleepout, which takes place on April 11 at Mattioli Woods Welford Stadium.

The annual charity event raises thousands for causes throughout Leicestershire that help the region’s most vulnerable.

Sobering statistics published by Shelter last year showed that on any given night, 1,400 people in Leicester were classed as homeless. 

Of those, a third are children.

For Enton, who has since helped local homelessness charities, the current picture is bleak.

“If I was homeless now, I just don’t know where I’d go for help,” admitted Enton, who has authored a book on his experience on the streets.

“When I was homeless, there were more charities and churches open for me to get food, and there was more funding.

“Where I now live, in Loughborough, a homeless hostel is fighting to stay open due to a lack of funding. It gives people who declare themselves homeless a place to stay while their application is processed.

“It is a real lifeline and they’ve raised over £115k so far to remain open  – but they need £200k and if that goes it will have a massive impact locally.

“Charity’s will become inundated with applications and referrals, but there’s not enough money to help get people off the street, and that’s why it is vital as many people as possible support the CEO Sleepout this year – either by taking part or donating – as the money raised can and will change people’s lives.”

Last year, the Leicester CEO Sleepout raised over £34,000.  

This year’s target has been raised to £40,000, with participants from the region’s business community asked to raise at least £1,000 each.

The charity’s CEO, Bianca Robinson, said the event isn’t about replicating the real struggles the homeless face every night, but to raise awareness of just how hard their reality is.

“The CEO Sleepout is tough and you are exposed to the elements, but participants have peace of mind knowing they will return to a warm home.

“For over 1,400 people in Leicestershire, they don’t have the guarantee of a roof over their heads when they go to bed that night.

“And as the cost-of-living crisis has exposed, we are all just a few steps away from that once unthinkable prospect.

“By 2024, the Government had vowed to end rough sleeping but as Enton said, the current situation is worse than ever before so that’s why we all need to come together and combat homelessness, and hopefully participants will end the CEO Sleepout with a greater appreciation for just how hard life is for the homeless community.”

At the event, Enton will also share his story with participants before they grab their bags for the night. 

Having witnessed people steal simply to get a warm prison cell for the night, he hopes that for those taking part, it will help “humanise” those who have no other option than to sleep rough.

“People can forget that everyone sleeping rough is a fellow human being, and I challenge anyone to come along for one night and experience it for themselves,” he said.

“Once you know that people have to do this night after night just to survive, it makes you look at homelessness in a totally different light.”

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