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18 February 2021

2020 was the year that 23-year-old student Ella* completed her university degree and became homeless. Her relationship with her mum, after years of strain, finally broke down, and she was told to leave the family home with no warning and nowhere else to go. After months of sofa surfing and stays in unsuitable backpacker hostels, Ella found refuge at a Glass Door hostel. She shares her story in her own words.

A bad start to the year

Right from the beginning of last year – the very first day in January – it felt like my life was falling apart. Everything was getting on top of me, my studies, my job, my home life, my mental health. Everything was getting worse, and I felt drained and depressed.

I was in my final year of university, studying business. I had been enjoying my degree and was doing well, getting firsts for my work. But a few months into 2020, the pandemic hit and suddenly there wasn’t much support from teachers, and I found it really hard adjusting to virtual learning. I was used to studying in the library, but they were now closed.

Studying at home became increasingly difficult because I had a bad relationship with my mum. She was making it impossible for me. My grades were plummeting as a result, and I had to re-do my dissertation three times.

I magically managed to get a good grade in the end, even though the end of my degree coincided with me becoming homeless. At least I felt that all those years of working hard hadn’t gone to waste.

The relationship with my mum has never been good. I’ve always tried to give her a chance, but when I saw what she was doing to my younger sister – the abuse, making her homeless for four months – I knew that I’d had enough.

I was always planning to get out of that house, but my mum made me leave out of the blue, for no reason. So, I got into this whole situation without even expecting it.

Sofa surfing and staying in horrible hostels

All I had on me was my laptop. I had nothing else. At first, I tried staying with friends, but after a while I didn’t want to ask anyone anymore. I hate feeling like I owe people and I don’t like to burden them with my problems.

I ended up spending my savings on hotels and hostels. First, I went for hotels because I don’t like staying with strangers. But when the money started to run out, I had no choice but to stay in backpacker hostels.

I hated staying in those hostels. The rooms were shared and crowded, and you had to hang a sheet over the bed to get some privacy. It was like prison.

It’s also scary living with people you don’t know. You don’t know who to trust. There were also a lot of creepy older men staying in the hostels, and I didn’t feel safe.

It was a lot of money too. You think it’s a hostel, so it must be cheap, but if you’re paying for it every day, it does add up to a lot.

During that time, my emotions were so up and down. Some days I told myself I would get out of this situation, and other days I just wanted to give up completely. I was scared and lost.

Luckily, I met a few people who helped me and put me in touch with a youth centre. That’s how I got referred to Glass Door, and they offered me a room in their hostel.

Finding Glass Door

Being at the Glass Door hostel meant I could have my privacy. I could be in my own room with a door that locked. That meant the world to me. I was on a women’s only floor, so there were no creepy men around. I didn’t have to feel scared anymore. I could shower and sleep undisturbed.

Everything felt secure. I was finally safe.

In the Glass Door hostel, you’re supported by caseworkers. Meeting Jasmiina, my caseworker, gave me hope. She showed me that there were options for me. I also found out about a lot of other charities that could help me that I had no idea about before. I didn’t even know they existed. I didn’t know anyone could help me.

It’s hard to get out of my situation on your own, so it was good to know that somebody else has your back. Knowing that there is someone who can make a referral for you, can give you a good reference, is there to listen to your problems—it makes you feel supported and more positive. It’s also reassuring to know that the caseworkers have worked with other homeless people in my situation. It made me feel more relaxed.

Positive changes

There are a lot of hidden good things about the Glass Door hostels that may not be immediately obvious from the outside. For example, the rules and routines at the hostel really helped me. When I first found out that I had to be home by 10pm, I wasn’t very happy with that. However, after a while it helped to fix my sleeping problems. I’ve had sleeping problems all my life. I never used to sleep more than four hours a night. But having a set time I needed to be in my room, meant that I was sleeping eight hours right through the night.

I have a routine now. I wake up at the same time and I eat at the same time. I’ve managed to kick a lot of bad habits. I used to be a heavy smoker. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t smoked at all. That was a huge habit to beat. It’s helped me get my life back to normal.

Being at the hostel has also made me more open as a person. I used to be really anti-social and would isolate myself a lot. But since being here, I’ve met a lot of kind-hearted, good people.

The staff are very patient and welcoming. Everyone is always smiling, always in a good mood. It rubs off on you. It’s made my mood so much better.

Next steps

Jasmiina helped me find more permanent accommodation. It’s a shared house, but I have a kitchen to myself which is good. I really like it. It’s in a nice area. It’s the best that I could hope for at this moment.

I’ve started volunteering at another homeless charity that provides mentoring support for people who are experiencing homelessness. I talk to guests, serve food, clean. I enjoy it.

Right now, I’m focusing on getting a job. I want to keep up the good habits I learnt while staying with Glass Door. I want to be the best I can be. I want to be in control of my life and have financial independence. I want to do something that is creative. I want to start my own business. I’m into a lot of different things, as you can probably tell. I want to try everything. I’m just getting started.

*Ella’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

If you want to help more people like Ella find safe shelter and access personalised casework support that will help them move beyond homelessness, please consider making a donation.