Nightshelters and emergency hostels

If you are homeless and worried about where you'll be sleeping tonight, you may be able to find a place to stay. Find out about emergency accommodation for single homeless people and what to expect when you stay there.

What kind of places can you stay in?

Emergency accommodation for single homeless people is usually basic. There aren't many options to choose from. Options include:

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

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

Use the Homeless UK website to search for all emergency accommodation in your area.

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 be religious to stay.

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

You will 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.

The shelter will be supervised during the night usually by volunteer staff, who will be on hand to provide company and support. The shelter staff may also be able to give you help with finding more permanent accommodation. You will 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 are free, so 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 will usually be expected to share a dormitory or room. This will be 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 will 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 will have to share a room with someone of the same sex. You will also have to share kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Hostel rents 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. It’s important 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 will 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 the Homeless UK website 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 will be 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 will be provided with a private bedroom in a family home, an evening meal and breakfast. You will be able to 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 will be 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 will be encouraged to get help from local homelessness charities.

You can find your nearest Nightstop Scheme using the Nightstop UK website.

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.

Last updated: 11 April 2014