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Howe Hill Hostel: Where they rebuild people’s lives
Like any 16-year-old, Emma* has dreams. She’s studying beauty therapy at York College. “I want to do another year at college, then go on to work on a cruise ship,” she says.
“You may as well do something you enjoy while you get experience! And after that I want to open my own beauty salon.”
Were it not for the Howe Hill hostel in Holgate, however, those dreams would be impossibly far off.
After constant arguments with her mum – “she wanted me to stay being a little girl” – Emma left the family home.
For several weeks she stayed with friends, lugging her belongings round from place to place.
“It was horrible. Not because of my friends – I liked living at their houses – but because of having to take all your stuff with you everywhere you went.”
Without Howe Hill, she believes she might have ended up homeless. Instead, she has her own room – she pays rent out of benefits – and the structure any teenager needs.
The 20 young people living here are expected to be back and in their rooms by 11pm each night – midnight at weekends – unless they have a good reason; and they have to keep their rooms clean and pay their rent.
“They’re the sort of rules and regulations you’d expect a family to have at home,” says Becky Ward, the city council’s service manager for housing and homelessness.
The young people here – the hostel takes those aged 16 to 21 – also get lessons in cooking, managing a budget, writing a CV and other skills.
They’re all just at the beginning of their lives, points out Becky. “We want them to go to college, get a job, be valuable contributors to society.”
Howe Hill is one of four hostels for homeless people that will be opened to visitors next week, York’s first-ever Housing Week.
The aim of allowing visits is to “show members of the public how we work with homeless people to help them rebuild their lives towards independence, work and fulfilling lives”, says Tracey Simpson-Laing, the city council’s cabinet member for housing.
And how do young people at Howe Hill feel about it? Seventeen-year-old Julie* – who, like Emma, found herself staying with friends after moving out of the family home because of rows with a parent – has no problems with the idea.
“People cannot normally come in, so I have people asking me all the time what it is like here,” she says.
And what is it like? She feels looked after, says Julie. She has been able to put her head down, go back to college, and get her life together. “I know it is going to be all right.”
• Howe Hill hostel in Acomb Road will be open for people to drop in on Friday, November 9, from noon to 2pm. Other hostels open during the week include the Scarcroft Road project (Wednesday, November 7 from noon to 2pm) and the Peasholme Centre (Friday November 9 from noon to 2pm).
*The girls’ names have been changed to protect their identities.