Mediation team leader, Emma Manners talks to BBC Three Counties radio about our Sofa Surfer campaign
She also talks to Radio Verulam to highlight the problems of sofa surfing (click here to listen)
What is sofa surfing?
Sofa surfing is a commonly used term to describe anyone who has made short-term arrangements to stay somewhere, often with friends or extended family, although sometimes they may not know their hosts well.
Sofa surfing is one of the most common yet misunderstood forms of hidden homelessness.
Why do young people start sofa surfing?
Young people usually start sofa surfing - sometimes just for a night or two to begin with - to avoid staying at home. This might be because they’re trying to avoid conflict at home, where family tensions are causing arguments. They might also be trying to escape from exploitation or domestic abuse within the family home or a lack of tolerance if they identify as LGBTQ+.
How much does sofa surfing really go on?
Sofa surfing is more common than you might think. On any given night, it is estimated that 71,400 homeless families and individuals across the UK are forced to sofa-surf [Crisis study, Dec 2019]
Why is sofa surfing relevant?
Tackling hidden homelessness is key to ending street homelessness. 71% of rough sleepers in England have previously sofa surfed [Understanding the Multiple Vulnerabilites, Support Needs and Experiences of People who Sleep Rough in England, MHCLG, Dec 2020] before experiencing street homelessness. So, raising awareness of sofa surfing and its effects is key to homelessness prevention.
32% of the young people we work with at Herts Young Homeless through our Hub service for 16-17 year olds were not in the family home when we started working with them, the vast majority of these were sofa-surfing due to family breakdown.
23% of the 18-24 year olds who we support were sofa surfing at the point of referral to our services. In this older age group, family breakdown and the lack of affordable housing to rent were the key reasons for sofa-surfing.
Why have Herts Young Homeless
decided to make this film?
Only 1 in 5 young people who are sofa surfing present to a council [Young and Homeless, Homeless Link 2018], meaning that the majority of sofa surfers remain hidden from public services. Many young people don’t know where to go for advice and even if they do, they may feel fearful of being judged or misunderstood. Others may be in exploitative relationships which restrict them from getting help.
At Herts Young Homeless, we want to let young people know that sofa-surfing is not always such a good idea as it might seem at first. We want to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage young people who are sofa surfing and who are in need of support, to come forward. Our workers are friendly and approachable, they’re experts in working with young people and their families and are there to offer support and advice and help young people to make positive, informed choices about their future.
How long do people sofa surf for?
Crisis interviewed 114 people [Dec 2019] and found:
1/3rd of those interviewed had been sofa surfing for between six months and three years. Many move from one experience of sofa surfing straight on to another or else go on to rough sleeping.
What are the effects of sofa surfing?
Sofa surfing can be a safer place to stay than the street but it has damaging consequences and negatively affects wellbeing.
- Young people have no privacy or personal space.
- They might not be able to choose when they go to bed or wake up. They probably won’t have anywhere to store their stuff safely and some of their things get lost or forgotten.
- Young people may feel like a burden and tension may build up with their hosts. They may feel under pressure not to overstay their welcome.
- Often young people sofa surfing will keep in touch with their friends and family less because they may be too far away or feel ashamed of their situation.
- 75% experienced a sharp decline in their physical health. Many are sleep deprived and not eating regularly or properly. They may be staying in deprived or dangerous conditions, with no access to a shower or washing machine.
- Attending school, college or work is negatively affected
- 80% reported their mental health suffered significantly
How does sofa surfing make you feel?
Sofa surfing can make you feel many mixed up emotions including some or all of the following:
"During my time working at hyh, one of our key concerns has always been about those young people who are sofa surfing. The impact of this is often misunderstood and these numbers are not included in official statistics that represent homelessness across Hertfordshire. Whilst this group of young people are not ‘rough sleeping’, many of them lack a stable environment and a safe place to stay. Everyone’s situation is impacted by their living arrangements. The young people we work with are often transitioning into adulthood and are at a stage in their lives where they are making important decisions about their futures. Having a safe, secure space and positive influences around them is vital to this. At hyh we want to ensure that young people recognise when they are in this situation and how they can access support."
Director of Services
Herts Young Homeless
What help is available for young people who are sofa-surfing in Hertfordshire?
At Herts Young Homeless, our friendly and professional frontline staff offer FREE advice to young people and their families. Our team can put in place intensive support packages to work together to improve the immediate situation and future outcomes for a young person.
16 - 17 years
Freephone 03003 230130
18 - 24 years
Freephone 08000 355 775
Acknowledging our kind sponsors
Thank you to everyone at Burton’s Biscuits for their kind support in making this film
‘We are delighted to support hyh in their mission to prevent homelessness in our young people. They are able to offer a broad package of support raising awareness of our hidden homeless issues of sofa surfing, through to family mediation, health and getting people back into society. They have shown great innovation making sure the right people are aware of the support they can get, so we are really pleased that we were able to contribute to their ‘sofa surfing’ video which shows how a young person can end up without a permanent home, but how with the right support they can get back on their feet’
Hayley Kingdom, HR Director, Burton’s Biscuits.
If you’d like further information, or to find out how you can help to support our services, please contact