OPINION: In my experience, sofa-surfing is homelessness

    by Lucy
    Monday, 23 December 2019 11:19 GMT

A man sleeps on a sofa at a bicycle repairing shop along a road in central Beijing, June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

No one should be forced to rely on the good will of others for months just to have a roof over their head

When you think of the term ‘sofa-surfing’ what comes to mind? It doesn’t necessarily sound like a negative experience, more like staying with friends after a night out or for a weekend.

In new research released by British housing charity Crisis this month, they have lifted the lid on what this actually means for people like me –  and shows just how disruptive it can be to someone’s life, mental health and relationships.

I was 19-years-old when I first experienced sofa-surfing.  At the time, I was in the middle of completing my A-Level qualifications at college and working part-time, but my situation meant I was left relying on different friends to provide me with somewhere to stay for a few days or weeks at a time, unsure of when I may have to move on next. All of this lasted for nearly six months.

Growing up, I experienced abuse at the hands of my mother which had become so bad that I had to flee my family home for my own safety.

I had nowhere to go. I had already been forced take a year out of school before when the abuse had become particularly bad, and with an offer from a top university, I didn’t want to have to stop or delay my studies again.

When I had to leave home, my college friends rallied round to help me in the short term, but it was incredibly tricky, as many simply didn’t have the space at home for an extra person staying on their floor.

I went to my local council and social services to get help – but as I was over 18 and legally an adult, therefore, I wasn’t entitled to anything.

Despite having to sleep on the floors of different friends' homes, I was not seen as technically ‘homeless’, even though I could be asked to leave at any time. The only thing on offer to me was to try and apply for a place at a local youth hostel, but I was told the process of applying, being interviewed and waiting for a free room would take about five months, by which time I would likely be sitting my exams anyway.

There was nothing available to help me now, when I really needed it.

It is difficult to describe how hard sofa-surfing can be – I never really felt properly comfortable during that six months as ultimately, wherever you stay, it isn’t your home. You are constantly trying not to take up too much room, feel like a nuisance or burden, or use the bathroom too much. It is utterly exhausting. It definitely took its toll on my friendships, being around each other constantly. I was lucky that I didn’t have any big arguments with any of my friends, but the pressure was constant.

For me, studying was also incredibly hard. I used to try to cram in my studies on the bus to and from school. I would also try to stay late in the library, as obviously you aren’t guaranteed space or time to study where you are staying and are completely at the whim of your host and their plans.

In the end, I was able to complete my A-level exams, move to university and into student accommodation so I didn’t have to sofa-surf any longer. Now I am completing a post-graduate doctorate and hope to become an academic in the future.

For me, sofa-surfing is not gone and forgotten though. I often wonder, what if my situation had been different? What if my exams had gone badly? What would I have done then?

With tens of thousands of other people currently sofa-surfing across the UK, this issue really needs to be taken seriously and we need to make sure the right support is in place and people don't ignore this 'hidden homeless' problem.

No one should be forced to rely on the good will of others for months and months just to have a roof over their head.

Lucy was a sofa-surfer and part of the so-called hidden homeless population in Britain

Crisis’ new research report - ‘It was like a nightmare’ - the reality of sofa surfing in Britain today - can be read in full here. The research has been made possible through the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have helped raise nearly £4 million to help fund Crisis’ work so far.

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