Hostels, nightshelters and foyers are types of temporary accommodation for homeless people. You need a referral from the Housing Executive or Social Services to get a place in some hostels , but there are others that can give you a room or a bed for the night you without a referral.
Getting a place in a hostel
If you have nowhere to stay, your first step should be to go to the Housing Executive to see if the Housing Executive is responsible for finding you somewhere to live. If the Housing Executive isn't legally responsible for finding you somewhere to stay you might be given a list of hostels that can offer you a room without a referral from the Housing Executive or social services. You can find a list of emergency accommodation providers on the Council for the Homeless website.
There's no guarantee that a hostel will have a bed available when you need it so you may have to ring quite a few before you find somewhere to stay.
Some hostels have rules about who can stay and may work with particular groups of people, such as:
- single people
- young people
- people with drug or alcohol addictions
- people with mental health problems
- people leaving an institution
- women fleeing domestic violence
Specialist hostels might be able to help you with problems that are making your housing situation worse. Search the hostel directory on HomelessNI to find out if there are any specialist hostels in your area and what help they can offer you.
What to expect in a hostel
Standards in hostels vary, and so does the cost. A hostel will usually have its own house rules and you will probably have to sign an agreement to say that you agree to these rules. Some hostels close during the day and you might have to be in the hostel quite early at night. Alcohol and drugs are banned from most hostels.
You will get your own room in most hostels, but you may have to share a room and washing facilities. You will also have to share cooking and laundry facilities. Most hostels are able to help you apply for benefits, permanent housing or other services you may need. Most hostels don't accept couples.
Most hostels have house rules that you must follow if you want to stay in the hostel. You can be asked to leave if you break the rules of the hostel. This can make it more difficult to find other temporary accommodation.
People from advice agencies will often come in and provide support and services to hostel residents. You might be able to access training or counselling services through the hostel.
Length of time living in a hostel
The length of time you can stay in a hostel varies from a couple of nights to a few months. Most hostels will try to help you find permanent accommodation before you leave. This could be a place in a long stay hostel, or special 'move-on' accommodation if you need support to live by yourself.
If you've passed all 4 homelessness tests and you've been living in a hostel for 6 months or longer, you'll get 20 points, called "interim accommodation points".
Living in a foyer
A Foyer is a supported housing development for young people. These will normally only accept people aged under 25. There are 3 foyers in Northern Ireland:
- the Strand Foyer in Derry/Londonderry, 028 7128 1155
- the Belfast Foyer in South Belfast, 0800 171 2222 and
- Flax Foyer in North Belfast, 028 9059 3301
If you're under 18, you'll need to have someone from Social Services contact the Foyer on your behalf to get a place. In a foyer you'll normally have your own self-contained flat. There are normally communal areas that can be used if you want to meet with other people. You won't normally be allowed guests after certain times in the evening, and won't be allowed to have overnight guests.
Staff in the foyer can help you apply for benefits and can get you on training courses that can help you find a job. If you don't work with the support services at the foyer, you may be asked to leave.
Paying to live in a hostel
You will have to pay for your hostel or nightshelter, but you can apply for housing benefit to help with this. You will also have to pay for your laundry and meals, but you can't get housing benefit to pay for these charges. Most hostels have staff who can check what you are entitled to and help you to claim benefits.
If you are receiving jobseeker's allowance or income support, the cost of your hostel or nightshelter will be paid. However, you will have to pay for any extra services such as laundry or meals.
Using a nightshelter
Nightshelters are very basic hostels. You will usually have to sleep in a shared bedroom or a dormitory. Nightshelters are a short term option. You can get a place to stay for a few nights and you can often get food as well. Some nightshelters are only open during the winter.
Staff at nightshelters can offer you support with benefits and may be able to help you find permanent accommodation. Nightshelters may also be able to help you access specialist support services.
Other temporary housing
If the Housing Executive is responsible for finding you temporary housing it may offer you a place in a hostel or foyer. If you're offered a place in a hostel but you're worried about living in a hostel, ask if you can visit the place before you make a decision. If you can show good reasons why a hostel place isn't suitable for you the Housing Executive may offer you a different type of temporary housing; like a property rented from a private landlord.