‘Brutal realities’ of sofa-surfing on mental health

Crisis publish report on the 'most common yet misunderstood' form of homelessness.

Jasper McCririck was a student at Aberdeen University when a fall out with his parents around five years ago meant he was forced to sleep on a friend’s floor before spending the next few years ‘sofa surfing’.

It is described as the most common, yet misunderstood form of homelessness and now its “brutal realities” have been brought to light in a new report.

Recent estimations suggest that around 72,000 families and individuals are being forced to ‘sofa surf’ because they have nowhere else to go.

The report from charity organisation Crisis reveals the horrific effects of sleeping on someone’s sofa or floor can have a person’s mental and physical health.

Those interviewed spoke of the feeling of humiliation, the erosion of relationships and being left trapped with no viable way out leading to depression.

Jasper, 27, had to take a year out from his studies as the experience affected his mental health and well-being before finishing his degree in Edinburgh.

Speaking to STV News he said: “Most of this went on during my first and second year and I was able to stay at uni during that time but when it got to my third year I had to take a year out.

“I was living in my mum’s flat until she asked me to leave, so I was being made homeless and this was as i was just about to go into third year so I had a chat with the uni and deferred my studies for a year.

“In Aberdeen they notoriously don’t have a lot of student accommodation, and they prioritise it for first and fourth year students so I kind of just missed that.

“After taking a year out I decided to leave Aberdeen and finished the rest of my degree in Edinburgh.”

The Crisis report, based on interviews with 114 people who have experienced sofa surfing, also reveals that 80% reported a downturn in their mental health, many attributing this to the constant pressure of feeling like a burden, tension with their host and insecurity of their living situation.

Jasper said: “It (sofa surfing) was so particularly difficult for me as I was also going through uni at that time.

“It did impact on my studies, definitely, and it impacted on my mental well-being which I believe is quite a common thing for those that are sofa surfing.

“The friend I was staying with was quite good and gave me my own key and stuff but I don’t think they really understood what it was like to be in that situation.

“I remember feeling quite low and having quite a lot of dark thoughts, it was a very very stressful time.”

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.

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.

Jasper said: “I never really felt like it was my home and felt like I had to put up with other people’s behaviours that I wouldn’t have had to if I had my own home.

“It made studying a lot harder, it made looking for a part-time job on top of that almost impossible and the long term effects mean I don’t have much of a relationship with my family anymore or speak with many of the friends I had around that time.”

Crisis say that. for most, sofa surfing is not a one-off temporary situation or stepping-stone between homes with a third of those interviewed 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.

And 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.