New report lays bare the brutal realities of ‘sofa surfing’
National homelessness charity Crisis has unearthed shocking findings about the most common yet misunderstood form of homelessness – sofa surfing.
The report, based on interviews with 114 people across England, Scotland and Wales who had experienced sofa surfing, shines a light on the horrific effects on a person’s mental and physical health, eroding their relationships and leaving them trapped sleeping on sofas and floors in the long term with no viable way out. The research also reveals the root causes forcing people to sofa surf in the first place.
An overwhelming four-fifths reported a downturn in their mental health because of sofa surfing, many attributing this to the constant pressure of feeling like a burden, tension with their host and insecurity of their living situation.
A further three-quarters also told of the debilitating impact sofa surfing had on their physical health, reporting issues like extreme back and neck pain, chronic fatigue and the effects of poor diet with many having no access to cooking facilities.
Sadly, the isolation of sofa surfing has also been revealed, with three-fifths saying they are seeing their friends and family less. For many this was because they felt ashamed of their living situation and their close relationships fell apart, having overstayed their welcome. Particularly stark instances include mothers who could no longer see their young children.
For most, sofa surfing is not a one-off temporary situation or stepping-stone between homes – with a third having done so for between six months and three years. A large number of people interviewed disclosed that they moved from one experience of sofa surfing straight to another and a significant proportion even went on to rough sleep after their last instance of sofa surfing.
It can be the beginning or part of long periods of homelessness where people move in and out of different forms, which are often insecure and dangerous. Failing to help people in this situation early on means we are allowing people to sofa surf long term, making it harder to leave behind for good the longer it continues. The constant insecurity can make it even harder for people to move on, as over half of people interviewed told how sofa surfing had negatively affected them searching for and maintaining employment.
The hidden nature of this form of homelessness means that very little is known about sofa surfing, despite it being the most common form of homelessness. Most recent Crisis figures estimate there are over 71,400 families and individuals across Great Britain are forced to stay on friends or family sofas or floors on a short-term basis, as they have nowhere else to go.
This research has also drilled down into the root causes forcing people to sofa surf in the first place. A key driver for over half was a lack of affordable housing, with nearly two-fifths stating that their housing benefit hadn’t covered the cost of their rent, leaving many with mounting financial pressures and more vulnerable to sofa surfing.
This stark insight comes as Crisis today open the doors of its Christmas centres across Great Britain, where the charity is expected to welcome over 4,500 guests over the festive period. The centres provide people experiencing all forms of homelessness, including sofa surfing, access to food, washing facilities and a bed for the night in a warm and comfortable environment.
Aside from this immediate shelter, guests are also able to access the support that Crisis offers all year round including advice on housing, work and benefits, to help them leave homelessness behind for good.
Commenting on the research, chief executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, said: “We know homelessness causes untold human suffering. Too many people in our society are facing unbearable pressures, forced to sleep on sofas and floors night after night after night. The harsh reality of sofa surfing is clear to see here - people trapped in this situation with no way out and everyday facing the worry that today could be the day they are asked to leave, with nowhere else to go. None of us should be forced to live this way.
“This research acts as a shameful reminder to the new government that tackling homelessness must be treated as a top priority in the coming months to ensure more people are not forced into this situation. We know homelessness can be ended in the UK - but this will only be made a reality by investing in housing benefit, so it truly overs the cost of rents across the country, and making sure local councils recognise sofa-surfing as a form of homelessness that is eligible for assistance across the board.
“In the meantime, anyone wanting to help can support Crisis, so we can be here this Christmas and all year round for anyone who needs us - whether it be someone sofa surfing, stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation or forced to sleep on the streets.”