Elliot, aged 24, came to The Winchester Beacon in May after being made redundant from his job in hospitality. After a series of arguments with friends, a breakup, and various debts, Elliot found himself sleeping on sofas each night with no stable residence.
When Elliot was made redundant from his job in hospitality during the pandemic, he felt lost. “I felt like I had no purpose,’ he told us. ‘I didn’t know what to do with myself and I didn’t feel good enough’. The change from working 60-hour weeks to nothing at all took a massive toll on him and put pressure on him to support himself, his partner at the time, and her kids. Elliot’s struggles worsened when he got into problems with friends and went through a breakup.
The pandemic meant that his options for accommodation were limited: he stayed in hotels temporarily but this only increased his debts. Eventually, Elliot was led to rely on the hospitality of friends and family, sleeping on different sofas each night. Elliot was initially sceptical about coming to The Winchester Beacon after being referred to us: ‘I actually did have the chance to come in sooner than I did. I held off because I thought that there were people out there who needed the beds more than I did. I felt like less of a priority as I did have a roof over my head each night’.
This highlights a common problem for so-called ‘sofa surfers’: those who, like Elliot, rely on sleeping on others’ sofas from night to night. As sofa surfers are not ‘sleeping rough’, its damaging impact is often underplayed and is a form of ‘hidden homelessness. A study by Crisis in 2019 showed that over 70,000 families in the UK are forced to sofa surf each night. The impermanence and volatile nature of sofa surfing causes many problems. 77% of respondents from the Crisis survey said that they were facing physical health problems, such as backache and chronic fatigue; 8 out of 10 said that their mental health had suffered, while over half saw personal relationships worsen.
Sofa surfing means that people suffer from irregular sleep, no private space, and feelings of inadequacy. ‘You do feel like a burden to your friends and family,’ recalls Elliot. The Crisis survey also showed that sofa surfing can negatively impact a person’s ability to find employment. However, arriving at The Winchester Beacon in May has helped Elliot get back on his feet. ‘I really didn’t know what to expect,’ responded Elliot, when we asked him how he felt when he joined us at The Winchester Beacon. He added: ‘But people make you feel welcome and you really feel like there’s a support network here. It’s the small things that have really made a difference’.
The Winchester Beacon has supported Elliot to help him find a new job and somewhere to live: ‘They make you aware of any benefits that you’re entitled to and give you any support that you need, from filling out forms to learning about computer skills and how to write a CV.’ Elliot is now feeling more positive about the future. He has a job but is also considering a career in the army, for which he has an assessment booked. He’s been back to the gym, which has helped improve his health – both physically and mentally. Elliot’s experience has taught him to always be open to change and to help from others. The Winchester Beacon has given him the opportunity for a new start and has allowed him to regain independence.