The Future Hostel – what do we know about how hostels can help end homelessness?

Thursday, 28 June 2018 - 4:31pm

The review into the future funding of supported housing has required Government and the sector to appraise how hostels are working across the country to help end people’s homelessness. 

young man sitting on a hostel bed

The role of hostels has come under the spotlight in recent months. The review into the future funding of supported housing has required Government and the sector to appraise how hostels are working across the country to help end people’s homelessness. The work currently being undertaken by the Rough Sleeping Taskforce, which will inform the Government’s new Rough Sleeping Strategy, has also brought attention to what has historically been one of the country’s core responses to homelessness.

This focus has largely been welcomed. Many of our members provide valuable hostel-based services that help people recover from homelessness. Providing much more than just a roof, hostels have come to play a key role in both delivering and coordinating the wide range of support an individual might need to leave their homelessness behind. The recognition of this, and calls to protect hostels within the discussions about the future funding of supported housing have made clear the need to ensure hostels can continue to make these vital contributions.

But there have also been many questions raised. How do we know, for example, that hostels really make a difference? Compared to approaches like Housing First which has an excellent international evidence base, there is limited data and research about hostels. The term itself is problematic – ‘hostels’ have changed considerably over recent years, and there is incredible diversity amongst provision. As we look to future solutions to ending homelessness, it’s important we understand how hostels can be effective, the outcomes they achieve, and what enables them to make a positive difference to people’s lives. 

Future Hostel report

Our report, the Future Hostel, attempts to answer some of these questions. It draws on findings from ten in-depth case studies of hostels across England and analyses data from Homeless Link’s online database of homelessness services. It explores the range of approaches and interventions that are covered by the term “hostels,” and focuses on key principles, learning points, and best practice.

The research identified many of the internal attributes that were key to providing effective support – for example taking a personalised approach; how staff culture can facilitate positive relationships with residents; and the need for flexibility within hostel management. It also looked at the role hostels play in connecting with the wider system – such as facilitating access to move-on, health, and employment services.

There were, of course, many challenges – hostels reported they were trying to meet increasing levels of demand with diminishing resources, which in some cases had negatively impacted the range of services they were able to deliver. Funding pressures meant many projects were currently understaffed. Residents disliked the rigidity in some hostels’ rules and regulations, which were counterproductive to their recovery.

It’s important that these and other limitations are recognised and addressed as the future hostel develops, and that steps are taken to better understand and measure the outcomes achieved. Our research highlighted that, for many individuals, hostels and the staff who work in them were what made the difference to ending their homelessness:

it was through trusting them and their support that I was able to find confidence in myself to move on.’

Alongside the other approaches and interventions that we know are crucial to ending homelessness, we will be continuing to support the case for a sustainable future for hostels so that they can be effective in meeting this goal for many years to come.  

The Future Hostel report

Our report, the Future Hostel, draws on findings from ten in-depth case studies of hostels across England and analyses data from Homeless Link’s online database of homelessness services. 

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Helen Mathie

Helen Mathie

Head of policy and communications

Helen job shares her role with Caroline Bernard, jointly overseeing Homeless Link’s policy, research, information and communications team. Helen is currently on maternity leave.