We are not all the same: Exploring Difference in Young People’s Experiences of Couch Surfing Versus Sleeping Rough

Recent surveys of young Australians show more young people couch surfing than ever before, although not all classified themselves as homeless. Envisioning couch surfing as a form of extended sleep-over with a friend has contributed to the perception that couch surfing is a secondary and potentially less concerning form of homelessness; or even not a form of youth homelessness at all.

While young people couch surfing may experience a degree of instability or reduced comfort, the assumption is that it is considerably safer and healthier than sleeping rough. There is considerable research that supports the highly negative impacts of rough sleeping including violence, poor physical and mental health, social isolation, substance abuse and juvenile crime. When framed by that research, couch surfing seems like the preferable option, promoting less risk and less exposure to harm.

But does couch surfing live up to this assumption? Commonly referred to as ‘hidden homelessness’, couch surfing is seen as a type of secondary homelessness in census data and other homelessness definitions. To date, there has been a considerable lack of research on couch surfing and little attention given to understanding how the experiences of couch surfing youth differ from other homeless young people, specifically those sleeping rough.

This report shares the preliminary findings from a comparative analysis of Brisbane Youth Service (BYS) client data collected at intake and exit from support. Analysis is focused on the questions:

  • How do rough sleeping youth differ in terms of demographics and personal histories from other homeless young people?
  • How do couch surfing and rough sleeping youth differ from each other?
  • How does housing status impact engagement with services?
Publication Date: 
Council to Homeless Persons