Last resort: the student sofa surfing epidemic

Gabija Gataveckaite

In the age of soaring rents, students resort to couch surfing to avoid spiraling costs. Credit: Sonja Tutty

“I asked everyone I knew and I was lucky to get couches. But some nights I was like, ‘god, I might really have to sleep in the park’.”

Oisin Terzioglu, an arts student in DCU, found himself effectively homeless last summer.

“A large network of friends really helped me when I was homeless because if I didn’t have it, I would have had to have slept on benches so many times,” he remembered.

While Terzioglu has managed to find accommodation since starting college in September, he relied on couch surfing to get himself through his repeat examinations in August 2018.

Sometimes, he was stuck.

“I went into Nubar at least twice or three times, just talking to random people and after a while, I would say ‘look, I’m in a really bad situation, is there any chance I could stay on the couch?’ and two random people let me stay at their family homes,” he explained.

As of November 2018, there were 9,968 people homeless in Ireland, according to the Peter McVerry Trust.

Over the last three years, figures from Focus Ireland show that the number of 18-24-year-olds has increased by 78 per cent since 2016. In February 2017, 776 young people were homeless, 7.8 per cent of the total number of people who take to the streets to sleep each night. As rents in Dublin hit all-time highs which exceed even the highest records set during the Celtic Tiger, more and more students find themselves stuck- just like Terzioglu.

In the lead up to his repeat examinations last summer, he found himself effectively homeless after his accommodation fell through. Originally from Mayo, he didn’t open up about his situation to his parents and when his repeat exams rolled around in August, a lonely couch meant shelter for the night.

“I was staying on people’s couches but I still felt like I was a burden and so I stayed out of their houses all day,” he said.

“I had a cart from Lidl to hold my stuff and I would hide it in the corner of the library all day. I was using the library as much as I could but I wasn’t using it to study.”

As some of his friends would work late, Terzioglu would sometimes wait until it was late at night to finally get some rest.

“It was quite a low point in my life,” he said.

Focus Ireland is the founding member of the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, an advocacy group which combines the work of several organisations in order to tackle youth homelessness. The Coalition published a report in February, which suggests that in order to prevent homelessness among young adults, action must be taken within the rental sector.

The report states that the full rate of Jobseekers Allowance for under 26-year-olds should be restored, as well as
increasing the production of cost rental schemes, alongside other suggestions.

These changes may be of benefit to final year student Michael Walsh, who simply could not afford to live in Dublin while studying.

“I don’t have enough money to pay for accommodation as rent in Dublin is mad and I don’t get a grant,” he told The College View.

Walsh relies on sofa surfing to get through the typical university week.

While he has accommodation near Ashbourne, county Meath, the daily drive would take hours.

“The roads are really bad and I would be back there really late each night and if it rains at all the road is destroyed as it’s in the middle of nowhere,” he explained.

For the past year and a half, he has stayed with a friend near the university. As he has his own car, instead of paying rent, he pays her with transportation.

“It’s a given that I’ll be staying at her house now. I cook food and I clean up and her housemates are happy enough,” he added.

For Walsh, his car has been his saving grace, who he has named ‘Sandy’.

“I can live from my car- I usually pack for the week when I’m home at weekends because I go home to work, so I can afford to come up to Dublin.”

Not only is it an incentive for convincing friends to let him spend the night, it doubles up as a place to hold his personal belongings and even shelter.

“I have a bag of clothes in the boot with a sleeping bag. My backpack with stuff for college in it has toiletries, a toothbrush and spare socks and jocks.

“If the need arises for me to stay somewhere I always have the bag with me, it never leaves my side,” he said.

“My life revolves around that car,” he smiled.

While relying on friends for a place to bed down for the night may not sound like the ideal scenario to everyone, Walsh claimed that that the sofa surfing isn’t the hardest part.

“Last year, I had an air mattress that was blown up with a hairdryer every day and I left that in one of my friend’s houses.

“I really miss having my own place- I eat out a lot more because I don’t have a place to cook, I eat out most of the time. I can’t buy food for the week because I don’t know where I’ll stay during the week,” he added.

As rent costs in Dublin soar, homelessness has become a political football. While students surf sofas to get through the week, the lack of caps on rental costs sees wealthy landlords making fortunes from letting out sub-standard accommodation.

While they credited a solid social network for avoiding the streets, both Walsh and Terzioglu admitted that they felt like they were impeding on their friends when sleeping on the living room couch.

“I feel like I’m in the way all the time,” said Walsh.

“I don’t go into my friend’s personal space or her housemates’, I stick to my own space in the living room on the
couch,” he added.

Gabija Gataveckaite

Image Credit: Sonja Tutty