I’ve opened up my spare bedroom to young homeless people

Generally, guests have stayed with me for one or two nights (Picture: Getty Images/Image Source)

When Jose* first arrived at my flat, he was quiet and tired but relieved to have found it, which isn’t always easy.

The young man had been sleeping rough and we were matched through a charity for me to host him for the night.

After showing him the spare room and making a start on dinner, he came into the kitchen and shyly asked about my house plants (I have a lot!).

We got to talking and he shared some stories and photos of plants he grew with his mother when he was growing up in Ecuador.

Later on, he spoke a little about his experience of sleeping rough, and how he’d been riding the train between Kings Cross to Brighton just to keep warm. I felt honoured that Jose felt safe enough to share as much as he did.

We had pasta together, then he stayed the night, had some breakfast and left the next day.

I’m a Nightstop host, which means I offer up my spare room to young people who are homeless for a night or two to help them get back on their feet.

We don’t stay in touch with guests, but after he left, I heard that the charity found Jose a permanent place to stay. I’m just glad I was able to offer a tiny amount of support when he needed it.

Since buying my two bedroom flat in Hackney in 2017, I regularly host young people who are homeless. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Polly's spare room, with a bed, couch and drawers
I’d encourage anyone who has a spare room and is able to help, to sign up (Picture: Supplied)

I found out about the role after watching a programme called The Young and Homeless hosted by Stacey Dooley. The show was about young people who were sleeping rough, using night shelters and sofa surfing – they said that they often felt unsafe, and they were very much on their own.

I wanted to do something practical to help and actually, my friend who I was living with at the time was about to move away so I would have a spare room. As soon as I was able to, I signed up to the Nightstop volunteer service.

A few weeks later, I received some training, which involved things like how to be a listening ear to young people so guests have someone to talk to if they need it. It also covered information about clients – do’s and don’ts, safeguarding rules, practical tips, advice on maintaining boundaries and how to access support if we need it.

Someone from the charity also came to visit the flat to make sure it was suitable to host in and they carried out the relevant DBS check. I was approved as a suitable host within a couple of weeks of applying.

The way it works is that, each month, I let the team know what evenings I can host and we take it from there. There’s no pressure from the team for how many nights, and if you ever need to take a break, that’s OK.

Generally, guests have stayed with me for one or two nights.

The very first young person I hosted overnight was lovely. When she arrived, I cooked some food, we chatted over dinner and ended up watching a film.

It’s one of very few volunteering roles where you can see the difference you’re making right in that very moment. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of hosting 10 young people.

Just the other night, I was hosting and was awe by the guest’s positivity and energy in the face of everything life had thrown at him. Another girl I hosted was balancing college with care-work, while homeless after a family breakdown.

Polly headshot
Anytime someone has come to stay, they’ve been nothing but kind and considerate (Picture: Supplied)

I’m struck by the courage and strength these young people are having to find just to get through the day. Being able to show a little kindness feels like a privilege.

I’d encourage anyone who has a spare room (even if it’s just spare sometimes!) and is able to help, to sign up – it’s safe, rewarding and simple.

Each young person is carefully assessed by Depaul UK – who fund Nightstop – and all the appropriate checks are made on both sides, with them on call 24/7 should there be any issues.

In the past, I’ve sometimes let out my room on AirBnB and I prefer this because of the amount of support you receive and background checks on both parties. The guests are usually referred through social services, their college, or another charity. 

The charity conducts a background check and risk assessment and gets references from the young person before contacting me to ask if I want to volunteer that evening. If I say yes, we work out a good time for them to arrive and leave the next day.

Later that evening, we’ll both receive a call from Nightstop to make sure everything is OK, and they call us again in the morning before the guest leaves.

Anytime someone has come to stay, they’ve been nothing but kind and considerate.

I’ve often felt helpless walking past people who are homeless and wished I could do something useful – now, in a small but very real way, I can.

Nightstop helps volunteers open their homes to young homeless people facing a night on the streets or sleeping in an unsafe place. For more information, see their website here.

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Volunteers’ Week takes place 1-7 June and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved click here

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