Stuck on the couch

Natasha was 16 when she left home and became a “sofa surfer”. For six years she managed to avoid the streets by staying with a succession of friends. Katie Glass meets the young people who have nowhere left to go

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Natasha didn’t realise she was homeless. She never thought of herself that way. She was just moving between mates’ houses, staying on their floors, in their front rooms, on sofas. “I could sleep anywhere, across some chairs if I had to,” she laughs, her dark eyes unsmiling.

She would stay with one friend for a night, a week, a month, then move on to another, then on again. “It was tiring, but you have to do it,” she says, shrugging her slim shoulders, chewing her lip. She never stayed anywhere too long or told anyone she had nowhere to go. Some nights she would run out of options and wander the streets, going to parks, trying to stay somewhere light, “near civilisation”.

“I don’t like to be too much in the dark, because that’s dangerous; there would be drunks out. Sometimes you’d get hassle, but I wouldn’t pay attention to it, I’d just get up and move away.” When it got light she would fall asleep on a park bench, but never at night; she was afraid of the dark. But then, a lot of 16-year-olds are. The next day she’d start looking for another sofa to crash on.

The phrase “sofa surfing” sounds exotic, like some bohemian lifestyle choice. It seems to have derived from cheap student backpacking, or stories of graduates crashing on mates’ sofas to avoid expensive London rents while taking up unpaid internships, living out of wheelie suitcases like middle-class hobos. But for some young people, sofa surfing is not a choice, it’s a way of life.

Is sleeping on a sofa really that bad? Not for the first night perhaps, or the second. Or even for a week or two. But imagine if, like Natasha, you moved between sofas for six years. And every night you had to find somewhere else.

Read the full feature here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1347940.ece

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