For most of us the image of homelessness is bleak and depressing, but also fairly alien. We picture homelessness as the cliche of someone in a sleeping bag on a street corner, with cardboard signs and a cup or a hat, begging for change. But although ‘sleeping rough’ like this exists, and is all too common is areas as close as close as Belfast and Derry, it is by no means the only definition of Homeless.
The term homelessness can span circumstances such as staying with friends and family, staying in hostels or B&B’s for an extended period of time, or living in poor conditions where you’re at risk of ill health or violence. So despite the typical image we have of people sleeping rough, many homeless people are actually ‘hidden homeless’, and the issue is a lot bigger than many of us believe. In Northern Ireland alone, homelessness has risen 32% in recent years, with ‘sofa surfing’ playing a major role in this rise.
Most of us have slept on a friends sofa, either after a night out, or in anticipation of an early start the next morning. But the thought of not having a home to go back to is, for most of us, unthinkable. Yet ‘sofa surfing’, where young people spend weeks or months in temporary accommodation or staying with friends is all too common. One BBC survey said 41% of young people have stayed with friends on floors or sofas for at least one night for reasons other than a night out or travel difficulties, while nearly 10% had done so for over a month, and over 3% had done so for three months. This has attributed to the fact that in 2017-18, based on Housing Executive statistics, 3,001 young people aged 16-25 years of age presented as homeless to the NI Housing Executive.
‘Sofa surfing’, by its nature, is a hidden form of homelessness, but having a roof over your head at night doesn’t eliminate the struggles of having to spend large amounts of each day trying to figure out where you’ll be sleeping the next night, and the doubt that comes along with this makes everyday things such as work or education almost impossible to concentrate on.
In an attempt to raise awareness of this, participants of Youthscape, South West College, Omagh, are raising awareness of Youth Homelessness and Hidden Homelessness. The students will put themselves in the shoes of the homeless and ‘go homeless’ for 12 hours outside the front doors of South West College, Omagh. Here there will be real life visuals of what it’s like to be a youth who is homeless on the streets, but also a visual of real life hidden homelessness in the form of sofa surfing.
The participants will also have information and advice to help make people aware of the support services out there to help. They aim to raise money for “Action for Children”, one of many services that tackle youth homelessness on a daily basis. Donation boxes will be available and and buns will be on sale, with all donations and money going towards the chosen charity.
Follow the students on snapchat: swccollege