I spent ten months of my life living in a room in a hostel with my daughter who, when we moved in, was just about to turn two. Those ten months weren’t easy but looking back I needed them because I was lost at the time. There’s a lot of stigma around those that live in hostels and in my time there I felt a lot of prejudice and judgement from people I wouldn’t expect, from strangers in the street even, but I also met some really wonderful people during my time there.
Firstly, there are a few different types of temporary accommodation. To be awarded this type of temporary living you have to have been made involuntarily homeless or have left a violent relationship and are escaping back to your hometown. You need to be able to provide connections to the town you are seeking a temporary place to live in however you may not get housed there. If there is no availability for your home town then you can be passed over to another area. They usually make you a priority on the housing list if that’s the case to get you back to your home town or close to family as quickly as possible.
Temporary housing includes youth hostels, women’s refuges, mother and baby units, family units and bed and breakfasts. These depend on the needs of the individual at the time. You don’t get a choice of where you’re placed and usually if you’ve ended a toxic relationship and need more support and help then you’ll likely be placed in a refuge which has a lot more rules than the others. My experience is that of a refuge. You will be told how likely you are to live in these places and it’s usually a minimum of six months, however the average time a person spends living in temporary accommodation is around eighteen months. Sometimes, this is longer. Be prepared that you might be in this for the long haul and yes, it will be tough.
Every hostel or refuge is different and will have access to different support. The place I lived in benefited from support workers being allocated to each family, an in-house therapist, a playworker and a monthly visit from a health visitor. As part of my condition for living there I was required to meet with my support worker each week to discuss how things were going which I actually found really helpful.
I had access to a range of support courses like The Freedom Programme and I joined a group called Young Mum’s Matter which helped me learn more about my rights as a tenant and the support I could have as a single parent. It was really nice to be around other mums, similar in age to me, that needed a bit of extra support. I also got invited to a parenting attachment course which was designed to teach about attachment parenting and bond with my daughter after a difficult time. I found this incredibly helpful and again really supportive. If you’re a newly single parent living in a hostel these courses can really, really help and for most people under 25 they’re free to attend and ran at local children centres. Some of these had a creche attached so Evie could meet and play with other children.
Hostel living is not easy and people don’t take it for a free ride to get a place to live on their own. They are usually in these places because they have no where else to go. I couldn’t return to my mums because there wasn’t any room there for me and Evie, my two younger sisters were both still living at home at this point, so this was our only alternative. I also knew that if I moved back with my mum i’d probably be living with her still now in an overcrowded environment, sleeping on the sofa which is not how I wanted life to be for Evie.
During my ten months there I had to share a small L-Shaped room with Evie. It had two single beds, two bedside cabinets, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. I shared two bathrooms and one kitchen with four other families. There was a communal living room with a TV and freeview, communal garden and a communal playroom. There were a few other meeting rooms too and the office door was usually always open, especially in the evenings when there were less staff on duty. Living there meant we had a weekly meeting with the whole house, a fortnightly kitchen meeting for our area and chores. That meant one day a week I could clean the kitchen, another I would clean both bathrooms. This was rotated.
In the kitchen each room was allocated one cupboard, a shelf in the fridge and a freezer draw. I got on well with most of the women in my area so we often shared things like tea and coffee, we sometimes had dinner together after the kids were in bed. There were a few times when we’d order in a pizza together and split the cost too which was really nice. It was a very social way of living that’s for sure but then it also made it tough if you just wanted some time alone. Each room did have a TV connection so if you had a freeview box you could get a bit of quiet there but if you had a small child with you most of the time, it’s likely the most common channel you’d watch would be CBeebies.
Sharing a kitchen was tough, particularly at meal times when you all have small children that go to bed, and therefore eat, at roughly the same time. The table usually only sat four too so it always felt like a bit of a battle. Sharing a bathroom was tough too but it was just something that you got used to really. Really, living in a hostel isn’t bad, it’s just hard sometimes and requires a bit of planning and compromise.
The hardest part about living in a hostel for me was having a curfew. This meant that no one could get outside between 10.45pm and 8am or until someone opened the office doors up to let you out. Everyone had to be pack by 10.45pm or call to let the office know where they would be staying. If I was going to be away for the weekend I needed to fill out a form and let them know where I would be and give a contact number. I also needed to say where Evie would be. This was all due to safety and became a necessary form for me when I met Adam as I choose to spend my child free weekends with him.
The hardest thing I went through was judgement from a stranger in a coffee shop. I was sitting there on my laptop using the free WiFi with Evie. I could afford to buy myself a cup of tea and a biscuit for my daughter. It wasn’t long after I’d moved back and I didn’t have many clothes. I was a bit of a mess, overweight, very bad hair colour, no makeup…I looked awful. I was trying to change the address for my bank and other online admin tasks but I was told that I was a disgrace to my daughter because I was wearing a low cut top which happened to show a scar I have on my chest. She must have thought I had my boobs out and I just lost it. After months of stress and worry and finally leaving a toxic relationship I just lost it. I told her how I was a newly single mother that had just moved 100 miles away from her home with hardly anything and that I was trying to do the best by my child. I really laid into her to be honest because I was so angry. She ended up completely shocked and apologised. She said “Well, I guess you just don’t really know someone until you ask, do you?” and I was just like “No. You Don’t. Perhaps next time you’ll ask if someone needs help rather than telling them they’re a bad example for their daughter.”
Another tough time for me which is an issue when you’re living with others is sickness. If someone catches a winter bug, sickness bug or Norovirus, you’re at high risk of catching it too. There was a time when we all pretty much had it and it was awful as it just kept going around. The advice is to keep clean and keep washing your hands to prevent the virus from spreading but it does spread very quickly in these kind of environments.
My advice would be to just get in, keep to yourself if you want to and just try and get on with it. If you’re close to friends and family then try and be with them as much as possible.
Living in the hostel for ten months gave me the time I needed to become a better person, recover from years of being in an unhappy and toxic relationship, learn more about myself and during that time I met Adam who did so much for me. When I got my flat I was incredibly happy and now I still feel I needed that time in the hostel to really prepare me for living on my own.
If you or someone you know is living in a hostel or refuge then the most important thing you can offer is friendship and support. Offer to have them over for dinner, offer to have a playdate, offer to babysit for a couple of hours if they need to go to support meetings or make phone calls to sort things out like welfare, arrange to meet up for a coffee just to get them out of the place. Some hostels don’t allow visitors and it can be very lonely.