“Sofa surfing”, a major form of homelessness in the UK, results in a serious decline in mental and emotional health, a new report reveals. ‘It was like a nightmare’ – the reality of sofa surfing in Britain today, published by homelessness charity Crisis on 23 December, is the product of 114 face-to-face interviews across England, Wales and Scotland.
'Hidden Costs' of Homelessness'
80% of the interviewees said their mental health had “suffered” as a result of sofa surfing and nearly as much, 77%, reported a ‘deterioration’ in their physical health. The effects of sofa surfing are all encompassing according to the research. 30% said that feelings of “shame” over their situation meant they saw friends and family less and 56% said their situation hurt their ability to look for work, secure a job, or even keep one.
There are 71,400 households sofa surfing, “at any given moment” in the UK, according to the report which says “sofa surfing” is “misunderstood” by many.
“Unlike some preconceptions, sofa surfing is anything but a pleasant experience. There is no privacy, no personal space and people sofa surfing follow host’s routines,” Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis said.
25% of people said they couldn’t’ access any cooking facilities, 17% had no access to a shower and 61% had no keys to the property they were staying in.
Imagine not having the keys to where you live. Fitting your entire life around your host's. Getting up & leaving when they do. Staying out 'til they want to go home. Holding down a job with different hours to theirs. This is life if you're #SofaSurfing https://t.co/ePKrFDLqOr pic.twitter.com/Q9JxmcBGZ1— Crisis (@crisis_uk) December 23, 2019
Crisis say they found examples of every ‘hidden cost’ of homelessness detailed in the work of housing and homelessness researcher Dr Kesia Reeve. These include: insecurity, poor living conditions, abuse and exploitation, risk to personal safety, worsening mental and physical health, intensifying multiple needs.
“When He’s Drinking He Gets Aggressive and Tells Me to Leave”
The report provides multiple examples of the stress and anxiety inducing nature of being dependent on friends, family, and others for a place to stay, with no end in sight. The research finds it all takes a toll which worsens people's overall health and well-being as well as their relationships.
“My host bares with it but I feel very uncomfortable. I feel like I am burdening other people. [I] don’t want to impose. [It] Creates a lot of anxiety,” one person is quoted as saying.
They continued saying “There is one friend I am not even on speaking terms with now.”.
“I’ve been sofa surfing [for eight months] to avoid sleeping on the streets. I have to provide care and support to an alcoholic host. When he’s drinking he gets aggressive and tells me to leave the property. The hygiene in the flat is poor and I have to live like that. I can’t challenge him,” another person said.
Changes to Welfare Policies are a Major Factor
74% of people responded that “welfare issues related to affordability of rent” was a factor in their homelessness with 38% saying that[pdf, p11] “their benefits did not cover the cost of rent”. Other major factors driving “sofa surfing”, but also keeping people ‘trapped’, were landlords refusing to accept housing benefit or universal credit, benefit caps, benefits sanctions, and delays in payments.
It’s Not a “One-Off” Situation
“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,” Crisis says.
Over 70,000 individuals and families have been forced into #sofasurfing in Britain, many of them because they were facing unaffordable rents. People are living in a constant state of uncertainty, sometimes for years & with no end in sight. Find out more: https://t.co/h3h3wFABrU pic.twitter.com/BJ6NW6EgJ9— Crisis (@crisis_uk) December 23, 2019
Sparkes said that the “unbearable pressures” for those experiencing the "harsh reality of sofa surfing" are "clear to see" in the report:
"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.”
Crisis: The Government Must Build More Social Housing
On 18 December Crises published a report which found that homelessness in England has increased by 9% since 2016. Prior research has also shown a skyrocketing of homelessness[pdf, p15] in England since the economic crash of 2007/8, though differing polices in Scotland mean that homelessness has actually declined there.
The report calls for the government to build more social housing to meet current and future demand. In a 2018 report Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain, Crises said that building enough social housing as well as providing individuals and families with strong social and welfare support are key to ending homelessness in the UK.