Hostels for single homeless people or couples without children provide valuable support to people who are at risk of rough sleeping. They vary in size, set up and the level of support they provide. Hostels play a key role in supporting people in their journey to independence.


Although the term hostel can be used to describe other types of accommodation, (such as youth hostels), in this context we are referring to projects for single homeless people who are rough sleepers or in immediate need of accommodation. Projects range from direct access services that are staffed 24 hours to second stage services, which may have lower levels of support.

The 2009 Survey of Needs and Provision (SNAP)  used the Homeless UK database to map the number of projects in England. This shows that there are 263 direct access hostels; and at least 1084 second stage accommodation projects. There are 9,000 bed spaces in the direct access hostels and 33,000 bed spaces in the second stage accommodation projects listed.

Hostels are mainly temporary accommodation, with organisations or funders setting a time limit on the residents’ stay. However, some hostels do provide accommodation that is more permanent.

Hostels are sometimes classed as emergency accommodation, implying that  it can be accessed quickly, when no other alternatives are available. Emergency accommodation is usually temporary. For a more in depth definition go to Homeless UK to access the research ‘Emergency Hostels in the UK: An Analysis of Provision from the Emergency Accommodation Directory’. See our page on Emergency accommodation for more information.

Direct access is a term that is commonly used but there is no consensus on a definition. To be direct access, a hostel must accept self-referrals and in many areas this is becoming less common, as a more strategic approach is taken to provision.

Projects may cater for a general client group or cater for a specialist group and those with specific needs, such as men, women, ex-offenders or drug or alcohol users. Projects will generally have some restrictions or criteria for entry.

Since 2003, most hostels are funded through Supporting People.

For many people who are supported to leave the streets, a hostel is the first step in the transition back to independence and a settled home. However, it used to be the case that many people are staying in the hostel system for too long and too many people were leaving hostels for negative reasons. The second cycle of Communities and Local Government's Places of Change agenda is providing capital investment to help make hostels into places of change for their service users.


Visit the Homeless Link Hostels Handbook . This contains detailed information on the theory; background and local context to hostel services, creating a positive environment, managing risks, the client journey and individual needs.

Homeless UK contains information on hostels and advice services for homeless people. It has information on emergency hostels across the UK and full coverage of relevant advice services.

Shelter provides a free, national telephone advice line which can help you to find a hostel. Call 0808 800 4444 or go to their website.