Do you know what a "Sofa Surfer" is?
I didn't until today.
When a new child joins your home, you have to nip them down to your doctor's surgery, usually, to register them. On this occasion the receptionist asked "Address?" I gave my house address. Then the receptionist asked "Is that the permanent or temporary address?" I replied "Temporary, at the moment." The receptionist asked "What is the permanent address?" I replied "She hasn't one."
Only the receptionist couldn't see. She tried again; "What is her permanent home address, the one she came from?" I replied; "She has no permanent address, she hasn't come from any address, she is of no fixed abode." The receptionist persevered "What was the last permanent address?" And I whispered, feeling a bit like John Cleese in the parrot sketch; "She has never had a family address since before she could remember addresses. She is 'omeless. She 'as no permanent address. No 'ome; past, present or - at this moment in time - future. She is without address!"
The receptionist said "Excuse me" and got up and went round the back. She came back with two women reinforcements. "What about her PREVIOUS address?" she said, with a look of triumph, as if they had got us over a barrel, they'd get some sort of address, however irrelevant, one way or another. The girl mimed deep thought. For a moment I thought she was going to say "Third park bench along from the swings just off the seafront in some town or other." But she went "Er...it was Swallow somefink. Swallow Drive. Swallow Road."
The receptionist wrote it down hungrily and moved on. She had an address. The box in her form had something in it.
The dentist receptionist was much more savvy. She went "Previous dentist?" I said "Not known" She looked up at me and sort of winked. I'd told her about the homeless thing. She squiggled a fictional name in unreadable hieroglyphic in the box.
Back at our house the girl and I sat around the kitchen table getting to know each other a bit. Course, I can't put anything up here that could identify her. Or any of her children...
But I asked her when was the last time she had a bedroom and she said it was in a hostel years ago, just before "they took away" her first baby.
Apart from those couple of weeks in a hostel, she hadn't hardly slept in a bed for four years. She'd slept on other people's sofas. About twelve in all. She is an authority on what you're looking for in a sofa to sleep on. In your clothes. Why cats are a problem: "They climb all over you" But dogs aren't so bad. Why Ratners-style mantelpiece clocks are a problem: "Bloody things rings their bells every quarter of an hour" How you get up early and change out of the clothes you've had to sleep in for warmth because you don't get given a duvet or a blanket or even a coat over you.
She had slept in some beds. But only shared single beds of young men who lived with their parents, offers which were extended for reasons other than selfless kindness.
She had slept two or three times in a broken bed belonging to a friend who offered it whenever the friend's older sister was "away for the night", and the friend could use the unbroken bed of her sister, thus freeing up the broken bed.
Apart from those few nights, she had slept on sofas for four or five years. "Yeah, it's just a type of homeless. Homeless ain't only people sleeping on park benches. You can always beg a sofa off somebody."
I asked her if it was common practice. "Yeah. Social Services have a name for it. We're Sofa Surfers."
I asked her which of our sofas she'd prefer to sleep on if she had to. She didn't even pause for thought: "The brown one in front of the telly. The big one's too soft. And I hates leather ones. I got stuck to one once."
After partner and I shared a couple of stress-busting jokes at DFS's expense, we got down to wondering how many kids/young people are sofa-surfing their lives away underneath the homeless radar.
And ended up agreeing our leather one is indeed rubbish.
The Secret Foster Carer