- Volunteer Hosts Celebrate 23 Years Of Opening Doors To Young Homeless People
23 Years Of Hosting For Nightstop
October 25th, 2017
The Couple Who've Opened Their Home To Young Homeless People For 23 Years
October 2017 marks 30 years since emergency overnight accommodation service Nightstop was launched.
This month we've been interviewing hosts, young people and staff to celebrate their achievements and incredible contributions to the vital service.
This week we caught up with a remarkable couple, Mollie and David, who have opened their home to young people experiencing homelessness for over 23 years.
Here's their story:
How It All Began
Mollie and David first heard about the service following a local TV broadcast about Nightstop Leeds which was broadcast following the launch of the first Nightstop service in 1987.
Twenty-three years later and the couple are still opening their doors to young people in need. They offer the spare room in their home for one night or two nights a week and estimate that over the years they have provided more than 2,000 bed nights to young people who may otherwise have slept rough or in an unsafe place.
Becoming A Host
Thinking back to when they first made the decision to volunteer for Nightstop all those years ago, did they have any concerns about having a stranger in their home, despite having a young family?
Mollie says that safety wasn’t a major concern for them. Nightstop provides full training and support which meant the family were actually more apprehensive about “loss of freedom” and having to be on their “best behaviour” whilst having a guest in their home!
When asked how friends and family felt about their decision to volunteer as hosts, Mollie says they encountered all kinds of reactions: “Sometimes we’re admired, sometimes it’s regarded as part of who we are...and sometimes we’re regarded as barmy!”
“The Move-On Options Are Less”
After such a long period I ask if they ever think about stopping hosting. Mollie replies, frankly: “Yes, whenever we feel in demand and have somebody three or four nights in a row.”
Mollie and David host weekly, but every Nightstop host is different. Some only host one night a week, or some pick and choose the days they can be available every month. It is completely up to each household how many nights they give, but every single night makes a difference.
When asked if they’ve noticed any changes to the situation for young homeless people since they began hosting all those years ago, Mollie replies: “The young people we host are from more diverse backgrounds now than when we first hosted.” She adds that: “The move-on options for them are now less.”
It’s true. Nightstop has seen an increase in the demand for the service. In 2016 the average number of nights a young person stayed until the service could find a suitable move on option for them was nine.
As Nightstop UK celebrates its 30th Birthday, it is worrying to think that the situation for young homeless people is worsening and the demand for the service is higher than ever.
Opening Your Door To A Stranger
So what’s it like when you first open the door to a young person you’ve never met?
Mollie says: “If you feel scared or apprehensive, then how much worse must the young person feel?” After welcoming hundreds of young people over the years, Mollie and David have their Nightstop hosting routine down to a T:
“We say ‘Hello we’re David and Mollie’ and ask how their journey was. We host at 9.30pm, we offer a hot drink, a meal, put the 10 O’Clock news on and then it’s time for bed.”
When asked if they ever discuss the young person’s situation and why they need to stay with Nightstop, Mollie says:“Sometimes. . .We always leave it to the young person to initiate talk about the past as we know they’re bombarded by questions from agencies.”
And have they ever felt unsafe when opening their home to a young homeless person? “No. The vigorous checking and risk assessment is reassuring for both volunteers and young people. . . There has been concern over whether a young person will actually stay.”
Nightstop provides full training to hosts and a 24-hour support service in case they need any help when the young person is staying with them.
So if opening the door to stranger sounds difficult, what’s it like saying goodbye in the morning and sending off your young guest without knowing what will happen to them?
Mollie acknowledges that it’s strange, but it’s something that as a host you get used to: “We know the boundary for Nightstop and we know they’ll follow up. Sometimes we do bump into young people in town.”
Nightstop hosts give young people the vital safety net and breathing space they need while Nightstop works hard to find a longer term solution for the young person.
If Nightstop can’t find somewhere immediately, then the service places the young person within Nightstop again, sometimes with the same host, or if the original host isn’t available, with another household nearby.
Ham Sandwiches For Dinner?
When Mollie is asked if she has any particular memories which stand out from their years of hosting, it’s not surprising that with teenagers and young adults involved, many of her memories involve food!
“One young person walked in the door and announced ‘I hope it’s ham sandwiches for dinner!’"
"Another arrived with a half cooked meal in a saucepan and offered to share it with the family."
"On one occasion a young person refused all offers of food and insisted we order a takeaway chicken burger!”
A Vital Safety Net
After hosting for so long Mollie naturally has many more serious memories from young people who were trying to keep their lives together while experiencing homelessness:
“We helped one young woman who’d been born and brought up in the UK but had no access to support as her family had been out of the UK for a number of years. She had a job and a deposit for a flat but nowhere to stay, so she stayed with Nightstop until she found somewhere."
“One young person was completing a course in order to do an apprenticeship in a gym. He needed help with numeracy and literacy. While using Nightstop he passed both and got the apprenticeship.”
She adds: “One weekend a young person stayed on the Friday night and returned on Saturday with a huge portfolio of paintings and drawings which he said he was going to show his nan. My son recognised it as GCSE Coursework from the school next door.”
Stories of young people who use Nightstop going to school or work are extremely common. In fact of the 1,306 young people who used Nightstop in 2016, 536 were in education, employment or training.
For many the safe family environment provided by Nightstop hosts can be the difference between keeping up with studies or work, and facing longer term entrenched homelessness and rough sleeping.
Could You Help?
When asked for some final thoughts on Nightstop’s 30th birthday, Mollie comments:
“Nightstop plugs a gap in the system. It’s more necessary now than ever as funding for young people dries up. Nightstop has saved young people from becoming a rough sleeper statistic.”
Nightstop urgently needs volunteer hosts to help provide a safe place to stay for young people experiencing homelessness.
If you’ve been inspired by Mollie and David's story and would like to find out more about becoming a host, then we’d love to hear from you.
We’re always happy to answer any questions and tell you more about how Nightstop works. If you would like to help Nightstop but you don’t have a spare room there’s still lots you can do to make a difference.
Click here for further information.
Mollie and David's story was recently featured in the national i newspaper Click here to view the article.