I have personally stayed at 2 different hostels (both in Canada) and was never chased by a psycho. I was an older married woman, traveling solo both times. I'm still the same older happily married woman today. I am retired, my husband still works. I LOVE to travel and enjoy it as often as possible. I am also very frugal and so staying in this "shared" lodging is a great option for me. As far as safety goes, staying at a legitimate hostel with other people is probably safer than staying in a hotel room alone. I felt extremely safe in both hostels. Hostels are not just for the teenage backpacker that is hitchhiking across Europe. There are a LOT more older people (both solo and couples traveling together) staying in hostels now. There are even some families that are staying as a way to save money and introduce their kids to more people and experiences from different countries.
My first experience was in Victoria, Canada for 1 night. I actually booked a private room to sort of test the waters of the hostel environment. I wrote about that stay in First Solo Trip out of the US.
This article is going to focus on my last hostel stay. I was going to be in Toronto for a Travel Media Conference and wanted to stay for at least a week. It was my first trip to Toronto and in addition to the Conference, I wanted to spend some time exploring this fabulous city. I had already saved money on my flight by using Southwest Funds and flying into Buffalo (versus the VERY expensive Toronto). I was able to take the Megabus from Buffalo Airport to Toronto for $18 each way. I had the first 2 nights lodging free at a Marriott (using free nights accumulated from frequent stays in the year). I was then going to stay for 5 nights at a fairly new hostel within walking distance to the Conference. It was $25 a night for a single, dorm style bunk bed in a room with 6 total beds (all female). We had our own bathroom in the shared dorm room so that was a nice feature. I was going to spend a whole week in Toronto for less than the cost of 1 night at a decent hotel.
I spend a LOT of time on research before any trip. For this one, I used hostelbookers.com and tripadvisor.com. Hostelbookers.com is my personal favorite for researching hostels. People leave reviews and ratings so you can get a good feel for the property from travelers that have stayed there. Tripadvisor.com is one I use for all lodging and attractions when researching a new destination. I found The Clarence Park and after looking through their website, I booked on hostel bookers.com. You actually can book right on The Clarence Parks own website and I wouldn't hesitate to do that in the future. I was starting to get really excited about this hostel. From what I read and saw (in the few pictures), it seemed more like a boutique hotel than an actual hostel. It was located right across from a small park: