An 18-month research project which aims to better understand the impact of the global pandemic on migrants who are homeless has won funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth, University of Sussex and homelessness charity St Mungo’s, will work with homeless migrants who have been disproportionately impacted by the global pandemic to capture their experiences, with interviews starting in Autumn, and the final report scheduled for early 2022.

In England, almost 15,000 people sleeping rough, or at risk of doing so, have been placed in emergency accommodation, including empty hotels, since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.  

However, there are concerns that some people may be forced to return to rough sleeping once the ‘everyone in’ initiative wraps up, particularly those who remain ineligible for welfare and housing support due to their immigration status. 

Dr Simon Stewart from the University of Portsmouth will lead the study. He said: “Many of these people are migrants at the sharpest end of homelessness with no recourse to public funds, which denies access to benefits, social housing and some free healthcare. 

“There are people currently housed in emergency accommodation who are unable to move on without immigration advice, putting them at risk of returning to rough sleeping.”

The researchers will examine the biographical and life history narratives of St Mungo’s clients in relation to their experiences of homelessness during the coronavirus crisis.

Dr Stewart said: “It is disturbing there are such high levels of homelessness in our wealthy society and that the problem is relatively unexplored in terms of its global dimensions. We believe there is an urgent need to understand the challenges faced by people with complex immigration issues. Little is known about how migrants experiencing homelessness negotiate a crisis and access limited support.”

Working with St Mungo’s services, a particular focus of the study will be the experience of non-UK nationals and their attempts, during the crisis, to resolve their immigration status.

We believe there is an urgent need to understand the challenges faced by people with complex immigration issues.

Dr Simon Stewart, Reader in Sociology

Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s head of policy, campaigns and research said: “The ‘everyone in’ initiative was an important step in the right direction to ending rough sleeping for everyone, as well as keeping people safe during the pandemic. 

“However, we know much uncertainty still lies ahead this winter and beyond, particularly for people with no recourse to public funds. Longer-term we know access to housing, support and immigration advice is key to helping people avoid and escape homelessness for good. 

“This research will help us learn much more about different groups facing homelessness and identify solutions for ensuring an inclusive approach to ending homelessness and rebuilding lives.”

Based on its findings, and working with St Mungo's partners, the project will make recommendations for measures that can be taken across the UK and elsewhere to support migrant groups facing homelessness, during times of crisis and beyond. 

Dr Stewart said: “Many homeless migrants face multiple everyday challenges; they experience the hostility and aggression directed toward homeless people, compounded with often intense experiences of racism. Our project will examine how migrant homelessness is experienced during times of crisis and how homeless individuals experience and evaluate situations based on a complex mixture of factors including their habitus, wider social forces and the dynamics of a particular situation.

“While much of the research on homelessness is nationally specific, we will examine the crisis with a global perspective, one that identifies the complex global processes that underpin migrant homelessness as well as the coronavirus.”

Professor Sally Munt, Clinical Directory of Brighton Exiled/Refugee Trauma Service, will lead on research ethics and will be responsible for mental health issues arising. 

Dr Stewart added: “Researching vulnerable groups requires ethical sensitivity. It carries the danger of risking more disappointment and exacerbating intense feelings of loneliness and isolation. Our team has considerable experience working with vulnerable groups and
Professor Munt especially has significant expertise in this field.”

The 18-month study has received a grant with the total value of £182,866, funded by the ESRC, as part of UK Research and Innovation.