Living in a hostel: the nightmare of London’s newcomers

By Pablo Donas

For most people, staying in a hostel is just another way to save money while doing some sight-seeing and visiting a city. For others on tight budgets, it is a great way to live without worrying about London’s high rent rates.

Bogdan Gorzu is a 23-year-old immigrant living in N8 Seven Sisters Hostel who has been sharing bathroom facilities and a large bedroom for the last month with more than seven people.

“Back in Romania, London was looking great. People told me that finding a job would be easy – they told me stories of a city of opportunities and success.

“But when I got here, I found myself running out of money and time. Even though I’m tired of sharing a room, I don’t have any deposits or fixed contracts to worry about which makes life much easier,” said Gorzu.

He has been trying to improve his English in the last month while working as a runner in a restaurant in Angel.

“I have a passion for fashion – I’ve been designing since I was a 13-year-old. I have packed very lightly, but managed to bring my portfolio and some garments I designed.

“Once I improve my English, I will try to apply to universities and get a degree in fashion while working part-time to get some extra money. I believe that studying in London unlocks a lot of possibilities” he said.

High London rents

The main reason people struggle to find a place to live in the capital is money. The rent in London is higher than ever; an interactive map that has been issued by the Mayor of London shows the distribution of average rent in different areas within the city.

According to the data, the average rent for a 3-bedroom flat in certain Central London areas such as Highbury and Islington or Holloway is around £2150 monthly.

Another study by Employment Conditions Abroad International (ECA) deems London the most expensive city for renters in Europe.

“London is an amazing place, given you have the money to enjoy it. The cost of living here is way too high, a room costs around £500 a month, without adding the costs of deposit and the agency fees,” said the young designer.

“A total of £1250 upfront is just insane.”

Minimum wage jobs

Like Bogdan, people moving from abroad can find London rough and complex. Minimum wage jobs and high rent rooms with poor health and safety conditions are the reality for many newcomers.

Francisco Sanchez is a Spanish immigrant who moved to London in August 2018 with his partner. As for the majority of people moving into the city, his budget was low and expectations high.

“I arrived in London with £1,000 in the pocket for two people, low English skills and lots of hopes,” he said.

“We moved to a hostel in North London while trying to find a job. The situation was a madness – we were sharing a room with eight other people, and every day we saw some new faces.

“It took two months for us to save enough money to rent a room and pay deposit and agency fees. But our first thought was to be there for two weeks,” said Sanchez.

The situation in this kind of places can be very difficult with a lack of space and privacy.

“I sometimes have to eat on the floor as everyone tries as they might get more space for themselves. Keeping personal belongings safe is even worse, leaving something out of my locker means losing it forever. That’s the rule,” said Gorzu.

“Cleaners come once every three days, with around 100 random people leaving mess and food waste 24/7. This place is just ridiculous,” he said.

20 different hostels

Dafne Isabel, a Mexican national, has been travelling around Europe for over a year, while being ‘based’ in London.

Now, she is back in her home country but plans to come back to London soon.

“I wanted to travel on a very low budget; I was planning long-time visits with no agenda. Living in hostels give me both flexibility and low rates.

I’ve been in 20 different hostels around Europe,” said Dafne.

Dafne Isabel – 12th of June 2017 in Barcelona Hostel

While the experience living in a hostel can be stressful for some people, others can find it as an opportunity to embrace different nationalities and personalities.

“I definitely enjoyed the experience; I got the opportunity to meet new people from all over the globe that were staying in hostels like me.

Maximum stay

Some hostels have strict rules about living there, as an imposed maximum period of stay is set upon arrival.

N8 Hostels, a London famous-chain of affordable accommodation for tourist has set 2-weeks as the maximum time guests can stay in their properties.

N8 Hostel Seven Sisters
Bogdan Gorzu at N8 Hostel Seven Sister
Interior of N8 Seven Sisters.

“I have to change my hostel every two weeks to avoid being kicked out. I have to plan which one will be the next I will be living in and book well in advance.

I had to stay at a friend’s house once as I couldn’t find a place to stay during the peak holiday period,” said Gorzu.

Dafne and Francisco found the same problem during their time at certain hostels.

However, some charities offer the possibility of long-time stay for people affected by the home crisis.

Charities like Shelter or Whitechapel mission help to relocate homeless people in temporary or long-term accommodations.

A study made by Shelter says that of every 200 people in the UK, one is homeless. This figure includes people relocated in B&B and hostels.

“It is not uncommon to find people living in hostels. I felt pity for them as in my case the hostel experience is temporary, while they have to stay there. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to be based in one of these places,” said Dafne.

A report by Shelter also warms that the problem is the combination of three factors affecting the country: unaffordable rent, frozen benefits and short social housing.

Polly Neate, current CEO of Shelter said in an interview for the charity’s blog that the services provided by the charity are needed now more than ever. They encourage people to support the company to answer as many calls as possible and save people from the streets.

Based on Shelter’s study
Based on Shelter’s study

“I know I won’t be here for long; I have enough savings to move to a flat, hopefully at the end of June,” said Gorzu.

“I think hostels are a fine solution for a short period of time, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone to live there for more than a month or two.”

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