The national homelessness charity Crisis has unearthed shocking findings about a common but under-reported 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 significant majority 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.
And 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.
Most also admitted seeing their friends and family less because they felt ashamed of their living situation - close relationships fell apart if they overstayed their welcome.
Crisis says that for most in that circumstance, sofa surfing is not a one-off temporary situation or stepping-stone between homes – a third have done it for between six months and three years.
A large number of people interviewed by the charity 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.
Crisis says 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.
Most recent Crisis figures estimate there are over 71,400 families and individuals across Great Britain forced to stay on friends or family sofas or floors on a short-term basis, as they have nowhere else to go.
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.
There are more details on the work of Crisis, and details of how those wishing to donate can help, here.