Northern Ireland

Homelessness: Raising a family in a hostel

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Media captionSarah said the hostel she lives in with her child is like having your own flat

The colourful walls and cheerful staff make it easy to forget the circumstances of the residents.

While children run around in the playroom, their parents sip tea and chat to their neighbours who share this living space.

It's a happy, safe environment. None of the children seem aware that they're growing up in a homeless hostel.

"Before I had my children, I used to work 70 hours a week," says Natalie.

Her husband died earlier this year. She moved to be nearer her family, but they didn't have enough room to accommodate her and three children.

Image caption The hostel includes a playroom for the children

"I am a grafter, I am a hard worker. It's just not that easy to get up and get back into work," she says.

The hostel accommodates for dozens of homeless parents and their children. It's one of several of its kind in Belfast.

Residents enter the site via a large security gate before arriving at the front desk. There's a strict 22:00 GMT curfew.

Once inside there is a homely feel and various support available for the residents.

Natalie says a school bus collects her children directly from the hostel each morning.

Breakdown in relations

The residents' living environment may be shared, but their stories differ.

Sarah moved into the hostel a year ago after giving birth.

She says there was a breakdown in relations with her family, so she contacted the Housing Executive for options.

A hostel, though, was not somewhere she wanted to go.

Image caption Natalie lives in the hostel with her three children

"I've heard stories of people having parties and drinking too much, even drug use in hostels."

However, after being reassured by friends who had used the facility, she moved in with her baby and says she doesn't regret it.

Sarah has her own flat within the hostel, which comes with a bathroom, kitchen and living space.

'Not enough houses'

She aspires to have a home of her own but admits she could be in the hostel for a long time.

"There just aren't enough houses to put people into," she says.

"It's hard to get your housing points up, it's so hard. I don't know how I'm getting out of here but I have to some way."

Children can live at the hostel until they're 18. After that, the charity works with the Housing Executive to find alternative accommodation, whether that's with their parent or singly.

The hostel provides vital support, but it's not a long-term solution for the residents and their children.

The charity's aim is to see all service users ultimately move into their own home.

For some, the transition can be swift. For others, the reality of life in a homeless hostel can last much longer.

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