Whether it’s high end furniture like Italian leather sofas or a stained hand-me-down futon, almost everyone has spent the night on a couch at some point in their lives. But for some people, crashing on couches is a lifestyle. Over the last decade, an entire community has sprouted up for people who want to let strangers stay on their leather sofas, a phenomenon known as couch surfing.
The average couch or leather sofa will seat about 782 visitors in its lifetime, but if you’re participating in the couch surfing phenomenon, then your couch may start feeling more “lived in” quicker. Couch surfing is an alternative to finding housing both on vacations and in day-to-day life, and more and more people are participating each day.
While this form of lodging is viewed as “trendy,” a number of couch surfers aren’t as privileged as others. In fact, while many people think of couch surfing as a way to save on hotel costs while attending an out-of-town event, for others it’s their only chance to avoid sleeping on the streets.
“They’re on someone’s couch, they’re not looking [for housing], they’re not wearing shirts that say that they’re homeless, they’re not bragging about it, they are trying to stay hidden,” said Dave Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York. In Buffalo, New York, there are an estimated 2,000 people under the age of 25 couch surfing full-time to avoid homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development does not consider these people homeless, and only count those who are living on the streets or in shelters.
“One out of every six couches they end up on ends up being a very dangerous place where they are subjected to physical, mental, verbal and sometimes sexual abuse,” said Nadia Pizarro, chairperson of the WNY Coalition for the Homeless.
Regardless of why a person may be couch surfing, there are a number of safety precautions and general tips that should be taken into account. You never know whether you’ll be sleeping on a brand new Italian leather sofa or a soiled mattress in a sketchy flophouse. While some couch surfing hosts may be more well-seasoned, others may be unprepared to house a person rent-free. Here are some things to keep in mind when couch surfing:
- Do your research. Is the area you’re staying in known for bedbugs or fleas? Will your host have food in the house? Is your host situated close to public transportation? Talk to your host beforehand to lay out any anomalies or explain safety precautions. It’s not bad idea to lay down a plastic sheet over the couch to prevent bed bugs from penetrating the cushions into your skin. It’s also a good idea to keep a stash of snacks and simple meals, as you don’t know whether or not your hosts will have a stocked cupboard or will invite you to share their food.
- Barter services in lieu of rent. To earn your keep, consider pitching in on utilities or cooking meals for your host. You can also clean or do some house work. As a nonpaying tenant, offering some of your time and services is the least you can do.
- Meet your host beforehand. A number of people couch surf on their friends’ couches, but some rely on strangers or acquaintances for living space. Ask him or her to meet you before you move in to make sure that you feel comfortable with your hosts.
- Ask questions. If you have genuine concerns, now is the time to address them. How many other people will live there? What are their sleep schedules like? Do they have any pets? Should you expect late or frequent visitors?
While it’s true that sometimes there is no time to address all of these concerns before couch surfing, try to answer these questions for yourself before you spend your first night. If you’re staying with someone indefinitely, it’s worth it to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Follow this advice and it won’t matter whether you’re sleeping on modern Italian furniture in Los Angeles or a seedy futon in New York City, you’ll sleep better — and without letting those bed bugs bite.