Hidden Homeless: St Albans woman felt “unsafe” living in a hostel

PUBLISHED: 15:21 20 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 September 2017

Hannah Dodds outside the YMCA in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Danny Loo

Hannah Dodds outside the YMCA in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

A grim picture of life in a YMCA hostel has been revealed by a St Albans student who was forced to seek refuge after being made homeless.

Hannah Dodds with some of her work which looks at life in her YMCA. Picture: Danny LooHannah Dodds with some of her work which looks at life in her YMCA. Picture: Danny Loo

Hannah Dodds, 20, contacted the Herts Ad to talk about her experiences after seeing our series on the district’s hidden homeless.

Fortunately she has now obtained accommodation at her university, but said she felt unsafe throughout the time she stayed at the YMCA.

She said: “I felt very let down. If I had failed to get into university, I would have given up.”

Hannah’s situation began when her mum relocated to Kent and she moved into shared accommodation, only to leave suddenly due to problems with her housemate.

Some of Hannah Dodds' work which looks at life in her YMCA.Some of Hannah Dodds' work which looks at life in her YMCA.

She was told she couldn’t stay with relatives as they were not certified carers, so she moved into the YMCA last December.

Her subsequent experiences at the hostel involved disruptive residents, blatant drug abuse and a general fear for her safety.

“It has been up and down, but mainly downs. The staff do not follow procedures, as safety is not their priority. It is one rule for one person, and one for another.

“I felt unsafe living there,” she said.

Hannah said other residents take heroin and start banging on people’s doors at five in the morning, but when she asked to move she was told nothing could be done.

She said a staff member told her: “If you do not like it find somewhere else.”

To avoid spending time in her room she took refuge in her college library, but this began to take its toll on her well-being: “The distance and the environment, everything impaired my mental health. It made me so ill I could not go to college. I have had to work really hard to make myself better.”

Hannah will be starting at Arts University Bournemouth later this month, studying for a degree in creative event management, and has already chosen her accommodation.

“I feel like I have escaped the YMCA,” she added.

The YMCA’s director of housing, Lisa Purchase, said: “We absolutely have procedures. Drug use is a problem not only we experience, it’s fairly systematic in our society.

“We do work very closely with the local police, and when we become aware of evidence, we call them.”

She says the hostel offers rehabilitative services and counselling for residents.

The maximum time people can stay there is 18 months, and Lisa says the emphasis is on “moving people through”.

“It’s never going to be an easy ride, but we do the best we can to make this a nice place to be.”

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