New research out today from 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 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.