How do you keep social distancing when your family is in a hostel?

Cardiff’s Nightingale House offers sanctuary and shelter to families with nowhere else to go. Kerry Rowlands tells us why their work is more vital than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic

At Nightingale House we’ve got 26 bedrooms and usually 80 to 90 residents at any time – each room with maybe mum, dad, a couple of kids.

About 40 to 50 per cent of our families are fleeing domestic abuse. Other reasons are relationship breakdowns, substance issues, people who have lost a job, haven’t been able to pay rent and end up with us if they’ve got no other options. We’re staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When somebody moves in they are allocated a support worker. We don’t want to do stuff for or to people. We want to empower people to make their own choices and ultimately move on from us.

I think one of the things that we do really well is create a sense of community

Support workers identify people’s needs – from practical things like budgeting, cooking or other things, residents need a lot of emotional support. With the kids as well. A lot of our kids witness domestic abuse – we help them make sense of what’s going on and why they’ve ended up in the hostel. While they’re with us, Cardiff Council investigate their homelessness application. On average people stay with us about 10 or 11 months. There has been a big focus on getting people into private rented tenancies, but it just hasn’t been happening. If you’re a private landlord, and you have the option of taking someone who’s been in a hostel or a young professional, you’re probably going to choose the young professional. So generally people in the hostel wait until a council property or a property with a housing association comes up.

To help reduce the spread of coronavirus in hostel environments, Cardiff Council were able to move a number of residents on into their own temporary or permanent accommodation. We had 11 families move out over the first two weeks of lockdown. However, we’ve seen a big increase in people fleeing domestic abuse being referred to the hostel and we are now at capacity again. The rise in domestic abuse cases is something we are definitely expecting to continue as the lockdown period continues.

I think one of the things that we do really well is create a sense of community. We’ve got nice friendships between residents. Before coronavirus, the kids would play together. We do lots of activities for them, like movie nights, and every weekend is devoted to activities for kids.

Every day is different. We’ve had to change how we approach that, so we’re doing lots of socially distant activities. We’ve redesigned our garden, with masking tape across bits of the garden so residents know how far two metres is. Probably not the most attractive sight.

From this year we’ve been making sure that each of the kids gets a birthday present from staff and the other kids make cards. Parents have really appreciated that. Next door to us, we’ve got a care home so we’re making cards and letters for people in there as well. The kids have also created some fantastic artwork for the hostel.

So far, we’ve only had two residents who have displayed symptoms. While this is a small number it’s been impactful on all residents. It’s very difficult – both practically and from a wellbeing point of view – to try to enforce a family isolating in one room for up to 14 days.

We’ve got a park quite close to us and going there is really beneficial for residents and their kids’ mental health

We’ve been using FaceTime to continue running activities with children in their room, and have put together activity packs for all residents including arts and crafts materials, board games and colouring books. We’ve also had a number of Xboxes donated for some of our older children and have just had notification from the Welsh Government that residents will be receiving iPads so we can continue to run support sessions over video calls.

When somebody moves on from us, we’d usually provide about a month of resettlement support. Initially it’s helping the person get furniture – the majority of properties are unfurnished – and getting kids registered in new schools, things like that. Over the last month, that’s been very difficult. Lots of the places we go to either aren’t open or delivering furniture.

We’ve bought a couple of fridges and beds for people, which we normally wouldn’t do, just so we know that they have something.

We’ve got a park quite close to us and going there is really beneficial for residents and their kids’ mental health. It would be nice to see a bit more understanding that not everybody has a garden or even another room where they can go to for relaxation.


Image: Nightingale House