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Hostel Life

November 01 2019

Everyone has something to say about staying in a hostel. Here’s a guide to the pros and cons by David Lawrence

When I became homeless, I discovered that there are different types of hostels which help homeless people find their own flat. There are single sex hostels (not just women only) and mixed hostels. And all the services provided vary. Mental health support is offered at the majority, plus help for substance or alcohol addiction and for those people who are considered vulnerable.

Due to austerity, funding for the homeless has been massively cut. There are approximately 20% less hostel places than in 2010. This has made it far more difficult to get the help needed. It also means that people are being put in hostels where they do not fully fit in. This can cause clients to be held back as they may not be accepted by other clients.

In research I did with St Mungo’s last year called On your own two feet we found out some reasons for people returning to rough sleeping was thanks to the rules and the people encountered in the hostel. Another was the pressure put on clients to change their life.

Hostels have a goal: to support the clients to make changes in their life so when they move on, they are able to keep their home. The support varies depending on what the client wants, but time at a hostel should be building people’s self-esteem.

One disadvantage of hostel life is that it is difficult for people to leave their friends from the streets. People may also feel pressure to carry on with the problems that caused their homelessness. In the research I often heard managing perfectly well on the streets was a “Badge of Honour.” Another problem is being afraid of letting go their old life, people sometimes feel there’s nothing to replace their friends or their addiction. In a hostel they might be told by other clients that they cannot change. They might be verbally abused. All staff work hard to stop this, but to succeed anyone in a hostel needs to be focused on recovery.

Another disadvantage is that there need to be rules in the hostel for everyone’s safety. But, this takes away the freedom many homeless people felt on the streets.

The advantages of living in a hostel are not just about having a roof. It’s a place where you learn how to manage your life, and how to use your time usefully. You may get a sense of achievement, reconnect with people and build your selfesteem. Although all these are hard without properly funded services, meaning only a handful achieve recovery.

Yes, hostels have pros and cons, but I am certain that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I accept that there are times when this might be questioned, but with determination from staff, and most importantly the client, hostels are essential.

  • If you are sleeping rough or you see someone sleeping rough call Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 or go on line. Also get help from and
  • In Scotland, call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444

Pets in hostels
Many hostels refuse to take pets, and those that do often limit numbers. The good news is that StreetVet (which gives free vet care to anyone who is homeless) is working on a scheme to help hostels accept more people’s pets. St Mungo's accepts people who already have a dog or cat. Expect to sign a dog contract.