Nightstop's great but there's much to do | Depaulcharity

Nightstop's great but there's much to do | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Nightstop's great but there's much to do

By Nicola Harwood - 16 May 2017


I joined Depaul UK back in September 2015, aware of its Nightstop network through previous roles, and with great respect for such a simple solution to youth homelessness.

It is so straightforward – place young people with nowhere to go in the spare room of a trained volunteer host.

However, the world that surrounds those young people is anything but straightforward, which is why I remain committed to making sure Nightstop is as effective as possible to meeting the needs of young people.

Over the past 18 months the Nightstop UK team, which is small but perfectly formed we like to think, created a fairly hefty "to do" list. We have looked at a lot of different ways to make sure every young person, host, and organisation that’s part of the Nightstop network has a safe but positive experience of Nightstop.

This included rewriting our quality standards. These are the standards that every Nightstop, whether it be run by Depaul or by one of our network members have to pass every two years to be a great Nightstop. We considered every step of the journey from a young person first becoming homeless, to them moving onto safe and sustainable accommodation, and tried to ascertain what the "ideal" journey was. This created our standards.

Someone recently likened quality standards to Spaghetti Bolognese. Everyone knows what Spaghetti Bolognese is, but we all make it slightly differently, and we all think our own recipe is the best.

This is a great analogy for Nightstop’s quality standards. We all know what makes a great Nightstop through the quality standards, but everyone meets them slightly differently. And every Nightstop thinks they are the best (we encourage healthy competition).

This works for us, because part of what makes Nightstop so effective is that it works just as well in London as it does in the Black Country as it does in rural Somerset – just they all might have to meet their standards in different ways to meet the needs of their young people.

In addition to the standards we wrote to help the network have the best possible tools to run their service, we also developed a new website, and created a new brand.

We have also just started developing an online tool thanks to funding from Comic Relief, that will help Nightstop services manage their host’s availability. This all resulted in a growth in our network, with new Nightstops launched in Bath, Glasgow, Guernsey and Ontario, Canada!

But we still have much more to do. Far too often colleagues tell me of young people who have come to us a few months before their 18th birthday, because everyone else has given up on them as they approach adult age. This isn’t acceptable. Nor are young people who have been passed around six or seven agencies before they get to Nightstop only to find out we haven’t a host available that late in the day. And neither is the assumption that if you’re under 22 you can most likely return back home, rather than claim housing benefit to move into a safe home.

We have always maintained that we believe that no young person should sleep in an unsafe place, and to achieve that we have much more to do.

We need statutory investment into mediation work, to make sure young people who can return home, can do so safely, and sustainably. We need Nightstop to be not just in the 45 percent of local authorities where we already operate, but in every local authority that needs to prevent youth homelessness. We need to ensure that Nightstop is the leading provider of emergency accommodation, and that every potential guest, host or supporter knows how to find us.  

I suspect our “to do list” just got a whole lot longer…

* Nicola Harwood is Head of Nightstop UK, a 33-strong network of emergency accommodation services that receives support from players of People's Postcode Lottery.

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