Inside Hope House - St Albans' innovative new haven for homeless

Laura Bill, Sharon Linney and Lynn Dutton with Betsy the dog in the kitchen at Hope House.

Laura Bill, Sharon Linney and Lynn Dutton with Betsy the dog in the kitchen at Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

The name says it all, a haven of hope for those who previously had none, a dry house for the homeless which is more like a home.

On first impressions, Hope House is a typical four-bedroom terraced home, tucked away on a backstreet in Wheathampstead, but what it actually offers is something remarkable. This isn't like your standard night shelter, where residents are thrown out into the street at dawn, it's somewhere people live, grow and change.

It is the culmination of a long-lasting dream for St Albans Action for Homeless founder Sharon Linney and friend Lynn Dutton, who set up Hope House to assist an addiction-free life and provide access to appropriate services for its residents.

The dining room at Hope House.

The dining room at Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

Hope House manager Lynn, 58, who was raised in Cottonmill, and assistant manager Sharon, 56, born in New Greens, are justifiably proud of all they have achieved.

Lynn explained: "We asked what people needed, and they told us there was nowhere you can go where you can come off drugs and feel safe.

“We worked for three years fundraising to open this recovery home, and Sharon and I work 40 hours a week unpaid to keep this non-profit project open.

"We get so much more respect from our guys because they know we do it for free."

The garden at Hope House.

The garden at Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

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Standing in the garden, the sun on my back and rolling fields in view beyond the back gate, there's no doubt in my mind that this a completely different facility to anything else serving similar needs.

The view over the fields from the rear of Hope House.

The view over the fields from the rear of Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

The property's owner approached Sharon and Lynn after an appeal on social media, and they furnished it entirely through donations to the St Albans & Harpenden Reuse Project Facebook page.

Following months of preparation, it was finally opened last September, with Sharon and Lynn on site seven days a week to support the new residents.

The rent for the house was paid for a year up-front to the landlord and is claimed back from Housing Benefit, ensuring stability and security for staff and residents, with up to four young men living there at any one time.

House rules for Hope House.

House rules for Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

There are strict house rules, focusing on respect for each other's private space, no violence, alcohol or illegal substances, and the need to keep bedrooms tidy and carry out daily chores.

Random drug tests are compulsory - with refusal considered a positive result - and there is a three-strikes-and-you're-out rule which has sadly been imposed on a couple of occasions, something Sharon and Lynn found hard but necessary.

The living room at Hope House.

The living room at Hope House. - Credit: Matt Adams

"We get too emotionally involved, but that is what works for us. We know that we are doing a good job. The proof is the guys - they have been clean for over a year.

"We will also make sure when they move on it’s to a home of their own with the support needed."

We spoke to Harry and Ben, two of the current residents, and what was immediately obvious was how comfortable they felt, not only living in the home, but in the company of Sharon and Lynn.

"These ladies mean so much to us," said Harry. "It's not a hostel here is it? I've had so many bad experiences in various shelters but this place is different."

Sharon and Lynn are now seeking to expand their offering with a second property, and are asking landlords with a two-bedroom flat or house available for them to use to get in touch via the Hope House Facebook page or by emailing hopehousestalbans@gmail.com. They will also be continuing to arrange further fundraising activities to help local homeless.

There's a theme of hope running throughout the house.

There's a theme of hope running throughout the house. - Credit: Matt Adams

There's a theme of hope running throughout the house.

There's a theme of hope running throughout the house. - Credit: Matt Adams