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It’s not often you’re led to consider your own birth in terms of convenience. Over the past few years I’ve led myself to the knowledge that my arrival, in the early 1990s, must have come as a relief for my parents, even if they never framed it that way to themselves.
Their lives were full of cares and stresses – some minor, some not. At the forefront was their housing situation, a blend of precarity and claustrophobia: what we would call “legal homelessness”, then as now. They spent that part of their lives between my grandmother’s housing association flat in Catford, south-east London, and the spare beds and sofas of various friends and family. My birth offered the promise of a modest council flat, a solid enough base for a less immediately difficult future.
There is another term for that kind of dependence on the goodwill and tolerance of others: sofa surfing. At the end of 2019, newly released research from the homelessness charity Crisis revealed the contemporary scale of an issue that has rarely before received serious scrutiny. Their findings are the latest attempt to articulate the realities underpinning what is the most common, and commonly misunderstood, form of “hidden homelessness” in the country.