S06: What happens behind closed doors? Mental Health Risks for Couch Surfing Young People

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By September 4, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Rhianon Vichta-Ohlsen, Katie Hail-Jares

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: What happens behind closed doors? Mental Health Risks for Couch Surfing Young People

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Dr Katie Hail-Jares (PhD Justice) is a Postdoctorate Research Fellow at the Griffith Criminology Institute. She has more than a decade of experience collaborating with marginalized populations, including incarcerated communities, sex workers, and people who use drugs.

Community strength is predicated on the safety and security of a home. Youth homelessness is disproportionately associated with a range of mental and physical health issues. The idea of youth homelessness is, however, most commonly focussed on rough sleepers; those visible on street corners or under bridges. Young people who are couch-surfing, moving transiently between houses without a stable home, represent a less visible but increasingly prevalent form of homelessness. Since couch surfers are technically sheltered, if temporarily, they have not commonly been considered at as much risk as other homeless young people. Drawing upon multivariate analysis of the intake records of over 1000 young people accessing Brisbane Youth Service, as well as preliminary qualitative research with young couch surfers, this presentation fundamentally challenges assumptions about the mental health and safety of young couch-surfers. It highlights important findings that young couch surfers report significantly higher poorer mental health and connection to support than any of their peers, including those who were sleeping rough. These findings raise critical practice questions and suggest that couch surfing should be viewed as a potentially serious mental health risk factor requiring specific risk assessment as well as targeted early intervention and policy responses.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: People will have opportunity to challenge assumptions and develop a better understanding of the mental health risks and support needs of vulnerable and homeless young people. This will enable them to deliver better, more effective services to young people, as well as to be better informed in advocating for the mental health needs of young people who move in and out of homelessness.

Learning Objective 2: Young couch surfers are often hidden, lacking access and prioritisation within mental health and other youth services. This topic is directly relevant to ensuring that mental health services are available and accessible to hidden groups in our communities who are at high risk of mental health issues.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2018. Couch surfers: a profile of Specialist Homelessness Services clients. Cat. no. HOU 298. Canberra: AIHW

Moore, Shorna. 2017. “Couch Surfing Limbo: Legal, Policy and Service Gaps Affecting Young Couch Surfers and Couch Providers in Melbourne’s West.” Melbourne, Australia: WEstjustice.

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