04 February 2019

Couch surfers: A profile of Specialist Homelessness Services clients (a)

This report from the AIHW explores the circumstances, experiences and housing outcomes of couch surfers who sought assistance from specialist homelessness services (SHS) between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2015. Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, a total of 52,729 clients (12% of all Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients aged 15 and over) were couch surfing upon first presentation to SHS. Per year, this ranged from 15,836 in 2011-12 to 20,839 in 2014-15, peaking at 21,028 in 2013-14. Typically couch surfers are female, aged under 25 years, unemployed and in major cities. Couch surfers are among the most hidden groups of people experiencing homelessness as they  can be difficult to identify. The report revealed three cohorts of couch surfers: transitory service users, service cyclers and persistent service users. The report notes that the concept of couch surfing acknowledges that homelessness is not ‘rooflessness’. There are people who are not be 'sleeping rough' but lack stable housing. Couch surfing can be a precursor to chronic homelessness.  Therefore it is important that couch surfers are targeted with specific policies, programs and services.