Frontline: St Mungo's North London Women's Hostel

Helen Warrell

What it is: A women-only hostel for women made homeless and vulnerable by sex work, substance abuse or domestic violence

What it does: Provides residents with a safe place to live while they put their lives back together and learn the skills needed for life outside the hostel

How it's funded: By a combination of local trusts, livery companies, churches and schools

Kitty, a 50-year-old tour guide who had been living with her husband in Spain, found herself homeless and destitute in London after her marriage fell apart. Hackney Council referred her to St Mungo's North London Women's Hostel, where Kitty stayed for 18 months before moving on to shared accommodation.

"The hostel was very welcoming, open and understanding," says Kitty. "They know homelessness can happen to anyone, at any time in their life."

St Mungo's, which has more than 70 homelessness housing projects across London, has just one women-only hostel, which was set up 11 years ago.

"The support we deliver is intense and direct compared with larger hostels," says Marcia George, project manager of the north London hostel. It has a maximum capacity of 29, so residents receive individual attention. Each resident has her own key worker, and together they progress through a list of goals agreed at referral stage.

"I don't want to set people up to fail," says George. "It's important to get people in here whose support needs we can meet."

To help residents prepare for life outside the hostel, a team of visiting volunteers and professionals runs classes such as art therapy and cookery.

"One of the unique services we have here is an in-house counsellor," says George. "We fundraised for that. We do a full 12-session course and follow up with referrals to other bodies."

Further fundraising is under way for a garden room, which should be completed within the next two years. "We have a lot of residents who, for various reasons, have lost their children," explains George. "But once their lives improve and they start keeping in touch with their children again, the children often come and visit. We felt that a bedroom might not be an appropriate space for children, and we want a larger space with TV, crayons and space for kids to run around."

George says staff are always keen to find ways of improving the facilities: "We're here to enhance, better and promote lives."

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