Nightshelters and emergency hostels

You may be able to find emergency accommodation in a hostel or nightshelter if you're single and homeless with nowhere to sleep tonight.

What kind of places can you stay in?

Emergency accommodation for single homeless people is usually basic and there is little choice.

Emergency accommodation options include:

  • cold weather or winter shelters
  • nightshelters
  • emergency hostels
  • nightstop schemes for young homeless people aged 16 to 25
  • women's refuges – for women fleeing domestic violence

Call Shelter's Housing Advice Helpline on 0808 800 4444 (8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 8am-5pm weekends) for advice on any of these options.

Search for emergency accommodation in your area using the Homeless UK directory.

Cold weather and winter shelters

Cold weather shelters provide free basic accommodation during the coldest winter months, usually December to March. They are a good option if you aren't entitled to claim benefits. They don't charge you to stay and food is free. Many are run by faith groups but you don't have to belong a particular faith to stay there.

To get a place, you can phone or turn up in person at the shelter.

You sleep in a communal area of a church hall or day centre on a camp beds or mattress. Sleeping bags and basic toiletries are provided. The smallest shelters sleep 10 people each night. Larger shelters may sleep 30 people or more.

Cold weather shelters want you to feel you are in a safe place when you stay. They often have rules that say that don't allow people to stay if they are drunk or abusive. Make sure you arrive on time to be let in in the evening. You won't be allowed to stay at the shelter if you arrive too late.

Shelters are supervised during the night, usually by volunteer staff who are available to provide company and support. The shelter staff may also be able to give you help with finding more permanent accommodation. You have to leave early the next day after breakfast and take your belongings with you.

Nightshelters provide a basic place to stay for a few nights.

Some night shelters are free. They are a useful option if you are not entitled to claim housing benefit. Some nightshelters charge between £2 and £5 per night for accommodation and food.

You may be able to find a nightshelter place yourself by phoning or turning up.

You are usually expected to share a dormitory or room. This is with a person of the same sex.

Many nightshelters have rules about visitors and alcohol use. It is important these are followed. You may not be allowed to stay in future if you break the rules.

You should have access to a support worker who you can talk to you about benefits, finding housing and who can contact other agencies on your behalf.

Nightshelters are often run in church halls that are used for other activities in the day, so you have to go somewhere else during the day. You may be able to go to a local day centre to stay warm, dry and get something to eat.

Emergency hostels

Emergency hostels for single homeless people provide purpose-built accommodation where you can stay for a short time.

Some emergency hostels only provide accommodation for women, young people or those who have been sleeping on the streets for a long time.

You may get your own bedroom in some hostels, but in most you have to share a room with someone of the same sex. You also have to share kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Rents in hostels vary. Accommodation costs should be covered by housing benefit if you are eligible.

You usually have to pay for extras like laundry or meals from your other benefits. This may be between £10 and £35 per week.

Try not to fall behind with payments, otherwise you can be asked to leave. You won't be able to stay in a hostel if you can't claim any benefits at all. This may affect you if benefit rules don't allow you to claim because you have recently arrived from another country.

If they have space, some hostels accept people who turn up at the door, but it's best to phone first to check they have space. You might be turned away if you arrive when the hostel is full. Some hostels have a waiting list so you can move in once a space becomes available. Most hostels only have beds for single people.

Use Homeless UK to find a hostel that may be able to take couples or pets.

Emergency hostels stay open during the day and some provide activities during your stay. You are allocated your own support worker.

Nightstop schemes for young people

Nightstop schemes provide free temporary accommodation for people aged between16 and 25 in the homes of volunteer families usually for one night at a time.

Sometimes you can stay with the same family for longer. Most young people stay in one place for about five days at a time. 

You are provided with a private bedroom in a family home, an evening meal and breakfast. You can have a bath or shower and use a washing machine if needed. You won't be able to stay in the volunteer's home during the day and are asked to leave in the morning after breakfast.

Volunteers are checked and trained by DePaul UK, a charity that works with young homeless people. Volunteers do not provide any formal support but you are encouraged to get help from local homelessness charities.

Read more about nightstop schemes.

Find your nearest Nightstop Scheme using Nightstop UK.

You may get help to find a place in a lodging scheme that provides longer term accommodation.

Read Shelter's guide Homeless? Read this (32 pages) for more information on homelessness.

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