6 hostels in 1 day

Friday, 30 August 2013 - 4:13pm

On Friday 7 June, a small group of Homeless Link staff embarked on a ‘Homeless Link on Tour – Hostel Visit Day’. Good Practice Officer, Will Baldwin, blogs about his experience.

Stephen, Jonathon and Will at Victoria for the start of the tour.
Stephen, Jonathon and Will at Victoria for the start of the tour.

Friday afternoon in central London and our host is pouring tea into china cups as we relax and enjoy our comfortable surroundings. Somehow this wasn’t what I was expecting when I started out on a tour of homelessness hostels. But then, I had said to my manager Jo, that I didn’t know much about hostels. It turns out I was right!

Earlier this year Homeless Link recruited several new staff. I was one of the lucky few. Appointed as lead officer for Homeless Link’s Day Centres Project, I spent much of my first month travelling the country getting to know day centres.

But I soon started thinking about other homelessness services and mentioned to Jo that I should find out more about hostels. She immediately blocked out a day in my calendar with the event title ‘Hostel Day’, and in June she took me and two colleagues on a whistle stop tour of six different hostels across London.

On Tour 2013

On the day, we met up outside Victoria station, raring to go. Jo greeted us each with a slip of paper setting out a ‘Homeless Link on Tour Twitter Challenge’. This involved tweeting throughout the day about our impressions of each hostel, using the hashtag #HLonTour. This wasn’t to be any ordinary tour. It would be about asking questions, getting to understand each service, then sharing it online.

King George's

Our first stop was only a short stroll away - King Georges Hostel in Westminster, one of the larger hostels of the day. Residents are men with high support needs who have a history of rough sleeping, many of whom are drug users.

The organisation and structure of the place is impressive. Housed in a big old building, different floors are designated for people at different stages of their journey. Each resident has a dedicated keyworker who supports them to address their problems and move them on to more independent living.

One big inspiration for me was to see how the hostel management aren’t afraid to innovate or try new things as long as they are to the benefit of their residents.

Cardinal Hume Centre

Our next stop was the Cardinal Hume Centre, a hostel for 16-21 year olds, also in Westminster. Here we received a warm welcome and a tour of the accommodation and facilities. There was building work going on when we arrived and the centre looked like it had received some recent investment.

The Centre offers more than just accommodation services and it was good to see how the hostel residents were encouraged to get involved in the different activities on offer. Many of the activities available are aimed at building skills and confidence so residents are better able to cope when they move on.

Hopkinson House

We walked the short distance to Hopkinson House. ‘Hoppy House’ residents are long-term rough sleepers with a history of heavy drinking. Located in an impressive mansion house in Westminster, passers-by wouldn’t know it was a hostel at all. Inside, it’s bright and open with a calm, welcoming feel and all this is reflected by the hostel manager whose enthusiasm and dedication shone through.

Hopkinson House has also been modernised recently and now has a fantastic garden area for residents to enjoy.

Lunch & blisters

After saying our goodbyes at Hopkinson House we were all getting hungry and in need of a sit down so we headed over to a local cafe and re-charged our batteries.

It was at this point that I needed to duck into a local chemist to buy some plasters for the blisters on my feet. Note to self: never wear new shoes on a walking tour, no matter how cool you think they are.

The Lodge

After lunch we were joined by a few more colleagues and made our way to The Lodge, a hostel for older men who have been long-term rough sleepers. Some say that first impressions are everything and with its entrance adorned with flowers and an interior akin to an upmarket hotel, The Lodge certainly impresses. We met with the hostel manager who gave us a talk about the service over tea (I think I already mentioned the china tea cups) and then showed us around the building.

The guests we met at The Lodge had a good rapport with the manager and we were lucky enough to meet some of them. Among them was John, whose passion for gardening was encouraged by staff, who gave him the responsibility for tending the hanging baskets and window boxes that give such a warm welcome to visitors.

Booth House

This same ethos of encouraging residents to get involved with improving the environment was something we experienced at Booth House. Here residents are consulted about changes and given the chance to get involved with the work.

Located in east London, Booth House is a very large, purpose built hostel. Erected in the 1960s and recently modernised, it provides accommodation for men with a local connection who have been sleeping rough. With keyworker support it helps residents to move on to more settled accommodation.

Graham House

Running out of time but keen to visit all six hostels, we made a dash across London to our final destination - Graham House in Lambeth. Based in a modern purpose built block it provides accommodation for rough sleepers local to Lambeth.

As we were shown around and met some of the residents we saw - not for the first time that day - how much effort had gone into providing a constructive environment for residents to make a positive change in their lives.

Last thoughts...

When planning this article, running through in my mind what we saw during the day, what stood out so clearly was the warmth and dedication of the hostel staff and the lives of the residents we met. I thought about how it feels to come into a hostel for the first time, what the rooms and corridors feel like and the different smells. One hostel worker even told us how each floor has its own scent.

I also thought about how, as a new starter at Homeless Link, the tour was invaluable for opening my eyes variety of hostels and the challenges they face in offering a safe environment for people to turn their lives around.

But it also occurred to me that, to a certain extent, my impressions could only ever be superficial. To get a true sense of hostel life I would have to spend time there as a resident. I’m glad that I don’t have to do this but I’m also glad that if I’m ever in a position where I need the same support as the hostel residents we met I will find the same dedication, care and support we saw on our tour.

Finally, for those of you curious about who won the Twitter challenge, our Communications Officer, Stephen (@stiggystardust), walked away victorious - #welldoneStephen!

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Will Baldwin

Will Baldwin

Good Practice Officer at Homeless Link until April 2015

Will was the practice lead for Homeless Link's Day Centres project until April 2015.