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The Good Hostel Guide

May 18 2009
What kind of Mum is your hostel? There is a trend among homelessness organisations of referring to their residents and service users as customers. We need some kind of rating system so that you, the customer, can make an informed choice before you move into a hostel. The finest minds in the industry are working on this, and some confusing shape-based rating system (I don't think parallelogram is taken yet) will spew out of a working party some time in 2009. Well, your friendly 'insider' can save them the time and effort. I scribbled my own system on the back of a cigarette packet whilst trying to avoid eye contact with the people on a packed night bus. The essence of 'The Mum Hostel Rating System' (TMHRS) is: "If this hostel was a mum, which kind would it be?" I would not suggest for one second that all hostel residents are children; however, all hostels are - basically - trying to be your parents. Some are the baby-boomer, modern-parent types. They let you call them by their first name, carry you around in a papoose and turn a blind eye to your drug use, maybe even hinting that they dabbled in their youth... They will advocate fiercely on your behalf to other agencies such as the police or out-reach workers (fascist pig tools of the state, obviously), regardless of what you may or may not have done. They will occasionally implement a rule, but don't worry: it will be forgotten by the end of the day. These hostels are almost impossible to get thrown out of, even if you want to, and would be pretty nice places to live if it weren't for the fact that the other residents are also allowed to do anything they want. Unsurprisingly, conflicts are a daily event, and the staff are usually unwilling to intervene for fear of preventing the residents from expressing themselves. Some of London's larger hostels are akin to the (possibly nonexistent) Daily Mail "dole mum" whose kids run riot, annoying the neighbours, while she sits on the sofa smoking fags and watching the government money roll in. The obvious drawback to living here is the constant chaos and the feeling of anonymity - it's not great when your mum doesn't remember your name. Some London hostels, essentially run by religious organisations, would be an initially kindly, religious mum who possibly lost her virginity and had kids at quite an advanced age. They will be tolerant and sympathetic, and may see your problems as a phase you are going through - nothing some mild (barely religious) religion and a good, hot old-fashioned meal won't cure. After trying this approach for a while, they might become exasperated if you haven't changed to their liking and suddenly become the mum from Carrie?î??? They probably won't lock you in a cupboard with a Bible and a torch, but may move you on to somewhere that would suit you better - probably another hostel, possibly the streets. A fairly pleasant, if boring, place to live, but you may tire of na?î???ve and simplistic solutions and the ever-present feeling that you are being judged. Next: the hostels that if they were a mum would be TV's terrifying Supernanny. These will be very strictly 'boundaried' and any breach will be met by a demonstration of the staff's comprehensive understanding of the patronising dog trainer tone of voice. Superficially, they will not get angry, nor will their demeanour change, even though they perpetually remind you of the rules of the establishment and the boundaries of your relationship with them. Almost any comment, conversation or behaviour could be seen as a transgression. Living in this type of hostel can be a daily tightrope walk over a pit of 'inappropriateness'. And, of course, they will have their own version of the naughty step: back to the streets! So these are the most common types of hostels. Among the less common types covered by THMRS are the parents who went to a festival in the mid-Seventies and instead of going home at the end, ran off to a teepee community somewhere cold in Wales. The main problem is the confusion over who the parents are - the 'staff' or you? If it's you, how did you suddenly become a parent when you just wanted somewhere to live? So there you have the HMRS, soon to be adopted by the rest of the industry. Let us know what you think of it and what improvements could be made. And, of course, tell us what kind of mum your hostel is. If you've anything to add to Insider's rating system, or even rate the hostel you're in, get in touch with the author at: