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Almost 50% of couchsurfers identify as queer; sexual exchange commonly added in arrangements

Couchsurfing is a growing form of homelessness in many countries; however, new research suggests it is especially common within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas from Unsplash.com

With the current housing crisis, more and more young people are couchsurfing, the practice of temporarily staying in a series of other people’s homes, typically by sleeping on their sofas/couches (thus the name). But this is also considered a growing form of homelessness in many countries, with couchsurfers unable to afford paying rent, thus being forced to stay in someone else’s abode.

Now a new research suggests it is especially common within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, with Griffith University researchers reporting that among young people (under 25) who were couchsurfing, almost 50% of respondents identified as queer in some way. Sadly, many of them offer sexual favors for the accommodation.

The study, Queer Young People and Couchsurfing: Entry Pathways, Service Provision, and Maintenance Strategies, appeared in the journal Youth.

HOMELESSNESS & MENTAL HEALTH

Couchsurfers, of course, traditionally do not view themselves as homeless because they have an indoor place to sleep. As such, they are less likely to access housing resources or use social services than those who are sleeping rough or living in shelters, or are often told they are less of a priority given their roofed status.

Additionally, almost all of the respondents in the study identified as having poor mental health and high levels of psychological distress, so that lead researcher Dr Katie Hail-Jares said that this is a population that really needs more support.

“There really is a need for better mental health care and support for families because the young people even acknowledged their parents were trying, but they just didn’t have the resources, like connections to services or education around mental health to know how to help their child, and that’s ended up leading to a lot of problems,” Hail-Jares said.

“I think one positive was that queer young people were less likely to mention their sexuality when talking about what led them to leave home, which may suggest parents are becoming more accepting of young people who come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Unfortunately, young trans and gender diverse people did often mention their gender identity as a reason why they became homeless though, so we still have a way to go in supporting queer young people.”

IN EXCHANGE FOR SEX

A further concern was the discovery of how frequently labor or sexual exchange was being added in to couchsurfing arrangements, often in addition to monetary rent.

While domestic work such as cleaning or yard work was the most common form of compensation, sexual exchange came in third, with respondents identifying a power imbalance leaving them unable to decline advances, or hosts simply expecting that by providing a “couch,” they were entitled to sexual access.

This experience was particularly common among bisexual or queer women, with almost all reporting sexual exchange as part of couchsurfing.  

Young queer people also identified staying in abusive relationships and giving emotional time and labour, in order to maintain housing.

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While young queer people are at a substantially greater risk of homelessness and housing precarity than their cis and heterosexual peers, it wasn’t all bad news, with some respondents saying couchsurfing had allowed them to focus more on exploring their gender identity and seek support, with the ability to not be “closeted” eventually leading to improved mental health. 

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