FOR many young people sofa-surfing is a way of travelling on the cheap, but for others it is a way of life that keeps them off the streets at night.
Unable to live at home the troubled youths seek refuge at friends and relatives’ until the goodwill dries up there too.
Before they know it they can be befriending strangers in the hope of having somewhere warm and safe to stay for the night.
Hackney teenager JRC was one of those having moved between relatives, friends and strangers’ homes for years unable to return home to her mother’s.
Eventually she found local charity Off Centre, which helps 11 to 25-year-olds with domestic or social problems, and with its support moved into supported housing and things began to pick up.
But like many services suffering from austerity measures funding dried up and the teenager was evicted along with the rest of the tenants and is now back to sleeping on sofas.
Delores McPherson, clinical director at the Off Centre, said they are seeing an ever increasing number of young people in similar circumstances as services are cut, but are unable to put a figure on it as there are no official statistics.
Appropriately they are called the hidden homeless flying under the government and local authority’s radar.
In a bid to raise awareness and get a grasp on the size of the problem, Off Centre has launched a campaign; producing a short film, Sofa-surfer, to kick it off.
The film, shot in Hackney, tells JRC’s very real and sad story and was premièred at the Art Against Knives space at the new pop-up mall Boxpark, in Shoreditch, on Wednesday night.
Gail Tavernier, who works at Off Centre and produced the film, said: “It’s a regular problem we face so we thought it was important to voice the problem. Due to the cuts more and more supported housing is closing so we don’t have anywhere to refer young people to.”
The consequences to young people being forced to live so precariously can have serious effects on their lives leading to drugs, depression, relationship breakdowns and giving up on education.
Alastair Murray, deputy director at Christian housing charity Housing Justice, said the problem is only going to get worse when the government’s cap on housing allowance for the under 35s kicks in.
From April under 35s living alone will have to move into shared accommodation as their entitlement is slashed. “Where will they go?” he asked.
He blames the problem on successive governments’ failure to invest in new housing, instead, relying on the private sector to build.
He said: “We [the government] spend ten-times more on housing benefit than we do on building new homes. A lot of that money is going to private landlords when it could be kept in the local authority if it bought social housing. With an expanding population we need to spend more on housing.”
Murray also called for the private rental sector to be regulated to keep rents affordable as they are in other EU countries.
He said: “Housing should be about having somewhere to live, not an investment vehicle or an aspiration that everyone should have.”
*If you are sofa-surfing or know someone who is you can help build a better picture of the problem by sharing your story at http://www.sofasurferfilm.com