For individuals, families and communities across the country 2020 has been a year of crisis. In the first weeks of March normal life in Britain was altered beyond recognition, the routine of everyday life suddenly uncertain and insecure, with both lives and livelihoods at risk.

As even Prime Ministers and Presidents fell ill with COVID-19, there was the sense of an indiscriminate contagion which cut across matrices of inequality.

And yet, research has shown that the threat of COVID-19 to lives and livelihoods is far from equal, its effects differing significantly across uneven social, political and economic contexts. What is increasingly clear, is that the extent to which COVID-19 is impacting everyday life (work, day-to-day travel, home-life, everyday routines, encounters with others, risks of becoming ill and the chances of illness leading to death) varies across individuals and communities, and that this is largely dependent on factors such as gender, race and class.

In our ESRC/UKRI-funded research project, "Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Homeless Migrants in a Global Crisis" we're asking how lived experiences of COVID-19 are both shaped by and shaping experiences of homelessness amongst migrants in the UK. 

Challenging assumptions of crisis 

We believe this research is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, whilst research both inside and outside of the academy has focused on homelessness or migration, there is far less known about those individuals who are both homeless and migrant. 

Secondly, the invisibility of homeless migrants as a community also impacts our ability to understand their particular experiences during COVID-19 and, as such, to ensure that some of the most marginalised individuals and communities in the UK today are appropriately considered and cared for during this national and global crisis.

Thirdly, our research rests upon the claim that to think critically about COVID-19 as a crisis we must think from specific locations, grounding our work in the uneven lived realities of everyday life. We believe then, that learning about homeless migrants’ experiences of the pandemic doesn’t just offer us practical information but will also raise new questions about how we conceptualise ‘crisis’ itself. 

We argue that thinking from the position of homeless migrants will challenge multiple assumptions about crisis, not least its juxtaposition to the supposed safety and certainty of 'normal' life. Instead, this research will underscore that for some, normal life is always already a site of crisis – and furthermore, that COVID-19 is experienced unevenly precisely because of its relationship to these already existing and everyday crises, shaped through multiple modes of structural violence. 

Stay informed 

Our aim is to trace the progress of our study, mapping our journey through the various landmarks of any research project including: 

  • gathering pre-existing data
  • reflecting upon methods and methodologies
  • constructing conceptual frameworks and analytic lenses
  • introducing our findings and primary analyses

In this blog series, titled Homeless Migrants and COVID-19: Mapping the Layers of Crisis, we will survey the data currently available in the field, mostly sourced through reports from homelessness charities and organisations.

Alongside providing facts & figures, we'll sketch out the multiple obstacles facing migrants in the UK who are attempting to overcome homelessness, as well as how these obstacles are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will not only provide a space for readers to get to grips with the multiple and complex webs of crisis that homeless migrants are struggling with and against in their everyday lives, but will also provide an invaluable foundation on which to develop our own analyses in the future. 

We hope that you will join us on this research journey, which we intend to be an interactive and co-produced site of enquiry. In our next blog post, we will be thinking critically about language – asking how ‘homeless’ and ‘migrant’ might be defined, and what the work of categorising ‘homeless migrants’ as a community may obscure or elide. 

In the meantime, we encourage you to get involved by following and commenting on our project Twitter feed and sharing our blogs with your network.

This post is part of a series titled Homeless Migrants and COVID-19: Mapping the Layers of Crisis.

This post reflects the views of the University of Portsmouth research team only, and not those of our project collaborators, the homelessness charity St Mungo's.