THE VICTORIA HOSTEL
Continuing our series on houﬁngand homelessness, Ness Raison visits Edinburgh’s Victoria Hostel.
The Victoria Hostel was set up in the 18303 to house ‘working people‘. Now it is a hostel for 37 women. with four dormitories. two baths. a metal spiral staircase disallowing disabled visitors and peeling yellow paint on the walls. Compared with the new Stopover in Glasgow or the shabby but friendly Stopover in Edinburgh. Victoria Hostel is more like a Victorian doss-house than a home.
Residents are of the same opinion and at present there are only fifteen women in the hostel. A co-wardcn comments: ‘Often they come in the door and are so horrified by the look ofthe place that they leave.‘
The location in the Grassmarket. a place associated with ‘alcohol culture’ is also off-putting. The alternative hostels are fewer for women than for men. There is Shakti for Asian women. the intensive hostle in Albany Street mainly for ex-offenders. and Vennel. the Salvation Army hostel which provides meals. does not encourage hosing applications and so is filled with more elderly and long-term homeless than the other hostels.
Victoria Hostel became self-catering in 1977 and every resident has an application in for housing. The staff. run as a women‘s collective. are friendly and capable. but hindered by their environment. They do everything from counselling and phoning the DHSS. to making beds. organising jumble sales and repairing the hostel.
The staff emphasise how close to homelessness we all are: ‘Everybody who doesn‘t have family or friends who can help them out through the sort of things you or I have been helped out in. can become homeless.‘ Alistair Cameron. Development Worker for Edinburgh Council for the Single Homeless. believes that ‘being homeless for a woman is a much more shattering experience, because in our culture, home and women are so closely connected.‘ Talking to the women residents highlights their vulnerability: yet they are not given priority on housing waiting lists: ‘I had to leave home for the simple reason that my life was in danger.‘ states one woman. from Westerhailes. ‘Darling. I‘m punch drunk she explains as she shows her false teeth replacing the ones her husband broke. She carries a divorce summons in her handbag. but repeatedly goes home to her
husband until he grows too violent again. when she returns to ‘Viccy‘. The staff confirm that this is a frequent occurrence with women who return to. or tolerate. ‘a violent relationship but a fairly comfortable set-up.‘ Her daughter. a mature seventeen year-old. is too young to stay at the Victoria Hostel. but is threatened at home by her Dad‘s violent and sexual advances. She is lucky to have a boyfriend she can stay with at weekends. Many women sleep with casual sexual partners or fall into prostitution for shelter. This girl has been in bedsits. and is capable — she only needs a ﬂat.
Less capable women have more problems: ‘Thcre is also a group of women for whom there is not any appropriate accommodation because they need something like sheltered housing for old people. where there is somebody around who would help them if necessary.‘ Grey-haired Mary had a breakdown after leaving her husband in England. and came from shared living for mental welfare to the Victoria Hostel. She has six children but cannot live with any ofthcm. She tried living in a tenancy but returned to the hostel. Her husband is remarried with three children.
A lot of homeless have been in social work care. A twenty-two year-old was at college in London
doing art and went north to go fruit-picking in Dundee — ‘But I didn‘t get there and I‘ve been here ever since.‘ She has family in Liverpool and Wales but has not lived at home since she went into care. aged eleven. She hopes to go to Colinton Mains hostel (a hostel for people recovering from mental illness) which is nicer than the Victoria Hostel.
There is an evident need for comfortable hostels where homeless women can take refuge until they find accommodation. Edinburgh Lodging House Association which runs the hostel is working with Edinvar Housing Association to find new premises (there is a building in Cranston Street. an old mission. at the lower end ofthe Royal Mile. which would have single rooms. and better conditions) and impress on the Council to speed up the process ofallocating housing. The staff want more permanent or semi-permanent alternatives where women could live away from the hostel but retain support. At present they have one halfway house with room for two people.
A report on homelessness amongst women carried out in 1983 by the Women‘s National Commission appears to have had no effect on the situation ofwomen‘s homelessness. One ofthe report‘s finding is that. . . ‘Women‘s homelessness could be tackled faster and more effectively than men‘s. Fewer homeless women suffer from institutional dependence. in hostels they take much better care of their surroundings and respond well to a flexible. liberal regime. They are far less likely than homeless men to suffer addiction. More women sleeping rough would use hostels if there were more hostels of the homely type. and many could be rapidly moved on to self-contained accommodation ifenough were available.‘
Perhaps— only four years later— funding for such a venture will be forthcoming.
Issue no 35 20 Feb -5 Mar 1987
Robbie Coltrane in Tutti Frutti.
4 Robbie Coltrane
Lead singer with The Majestics?
Robbie Coltrane talks about his role
in John Byrne‘s new tv comedy drama. Tutti Frutti.
6 Lumiere and Son
The dazzling performance art group talk to Mark Shenton.
8 Style Council.
Jonathan Richards speaks to Paul Weller.
9 The Fly
A creepie crawlie of magnitude — Colin Booth investigated.
Full guide to events this fortnight Film 11 Rock 28 Theatre 18 An 33 Cabaret 22 Kids 38 Dance 22 Sport 40 Classical Music 23 Open 41 Folk 25 Media 42 Jazz 27
Nightlife and Clubs Guide and Books
Publisher Robin Hodge.
Editors Nigel Billen. Sarah Ilemming. Associate Editor Allan Hunter. Design Simon Esterson. Advertising Robin Hodge. Frances Lochtie Accounts Georgette Renwick. Richard Gray. Typesetting Jo Kennedy. Aileen Jardine and Hewer Text. Production Editor Paul Keir. Production Assistant Jane Kennedy Art Alice Bain. Books Alan Taylor. Classical Music Carol Main. Dance Alice Bain. Film Allan Hunter. Trevor Johnston. Folk/Jazz Norman Chalmers. Kids Sally Kinnes. Media Nigel Billen. Sally Kinncs. Rock (Edinburgh) Alastair Mabbott. Rock (Glasgow) John . Williamson. Listen Andrea Miller. Sport Kenny Mathieson. Theatre Sarah Hemming. Camera Daricn Printing Co. CoverpholoNigel Robertson. Cover Design Nigel Billen. Paul Keir.
Published by The List Ltd. 14 High Street. Edinburgh. 558 1191
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The List 20 Feb — 5 March 3