Protecting the foundations of hostel funding

Emma Webb, Campaigns Officer, explains why we’ve been campaigning to save hostels…

Today (on World Homeless Day) we handed in our Save Hostels, Rebuild Lives petition – calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk as they change the way supported housing is funded.

More than 12,000 people signed the petition, and this morning St Mungo’s clients and staff built a model house in Parliament Square displaying the names of some of those signatories. The house was decorated with bricks bearing messages from our clients about what supported housing means to them – things like “hope”, “guidance” and “compassion”.

When I joined the St Mungo’s campaigns team in August, Save Hostels was already in full swing with 4,500 signatures on the petition. I was new to the homelessness sector and, while it came as no surprise that rough sleeping was on the rise after years of austerity (increasing by 134% since 2010), I was less aware of the pressures on hostels.

Hostel provision has seen an 18% reduction in bed spaces since 2010, alongside dwindling funding for support contracts from local authorities and mandatory 1% annual rent decreases – all in the face of rising demand for services. The latest proposed changes to supported housing funding (which you can read about in a previous blog) are potentially even more devastating.

Since then I’ve been visiting St Mungo’s projects and services to get a sense of exactly what’s at stake with these changes. My first visit was to Endsleigh Gardens, a hostel where the basement houses a Bricks and Mortar scheme, teaching residents and other St Mungo’s clients bricklaying and plastering. As well as being an accredited course leading to a diploma and the possibility of paid employment, the scheme boosts people’s confidence and self-esteem.

I also visited the North London Women’s Hostel, where women who are vulnerable and have support needs are housed with 24 hour support and an on-site counsellor. The hostel provides a safe environment for women who’ve experienced domestic violence or other abuse, while also offering support around physical or mental health problems and drug or alcohol issues.

Most recently I went to Hope Gardens, a specialist hostel for those who have experienced longer periods of rough sleeping as well as drug or alcohol problems. The hostel recently moved to a new building and in the process was redesigned around residents’ wishes – from decorating the building to overhauling the induction process and incorporating a family room for visits. At the request of residents all posters were removed and what remaining information had to be displayed was framed, transforming the appearance from that of a service to that of a home.

What these services showed me is that hostels are more than just a place to stay. They provide a home, safety, and the support residents need to rebuild their lives, and that’s why it’s so important that we protect them.

Homeless hostels provide 30,000 beds a night in England, and currently represent the country’s primary route out of rough sleeping. For those with multiple and complex needs in particular, they are a crucial stepping stone in a person’s journey from the street to independent accommodation.

That’s why we were at Parliament Square this morning, and why St Mungo’s will continue to make the case for secure and sustainable funding for hostels as government policy develops.

For now, we’d like to say a huge thank you to the 12,005 supporters who signed the petition, and the 900 campaigners who recently asked their MP to attend today’s debate on the future of supported housing funding. Demonstrating public support for this issue is so important, and that’s what you’ve enabled us to do.

To be kept up to date on this campaign and to get involved in creating change for people affected by homelessness, sign up to be a St Mungo’s campaigner today.