Aerial Photography; July 2019

Simon Stewart, PI of the UKRI/ESRC-funded project 'Homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic Homeless Migrants in a Global Crisis' discusses the project

Simon Stewart

1 hour watch

The University of Portsmouth Democratic Citizenship Theme, directed by Professor Leila Choukroune, hosts this talk given by Dr. Simon Stewart, Reader in Sociology, Director of the Centre for European and International Studies Research, about his UKRI/ESRC-funded project 'Homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic: Homeless Migrants in a Global Crisis'.

The UK government’s Everyone In scheme, announced in March 2020, required local authorities to temporarily house all homeless individuals in their area regardless of immigration status. In providing support through safe and secure accommodation, Everyone In also provided a crucial moment of visibility for migrants experiencing homelessness.

Yet, just as it provided life-changing opportunities for some, the scheme was not straightforwardly a celebratory moment for migrants. It remained embedded within a wider context of immigration governance and social inequality in the UK, which has both invisibilised migrant homelessness as a crisis and hypervisibilised migrants as undeserving, suspicious or ‘illegal’ subjects.

In this paper, we explore life-story narratives co-produced with migrants across three urban contexts that capture their experiences of homelessness before and during the pandemic. In doing so, we introduce the notion of cultivated invisibility, referring to a habitual, deeply-ingrained mode of practice through which migrants respond to and navigate their experiences of being read as ‘Other’, in racialised or class terms. It is developed through conditions of material scarcity and in the course of multiple engagements with racial capitalism’s various ‘faces of the state’ in an increasingly hostile environment for migrants. Cultivated invisibility involves staying on the move and blending into the crowd or avoiding it altogether but it also includes the experience of being unseen despite having come forward for help. Importantly, we demonstrate that cultivated invisibility becomes a cause of illegalisation, just as much as a response to it.

Research Futures: Cultivated Invisibility and Migrants’ Experiences of Homelessness


So this is a paper that I've co-written with Charlotte Saunders, who works at Soas now.

I should point that out and I've got colleagues in the room here who have worked with me on the project and we're working on other outputs.

So the project, in the project we're gathering the stories of non UK nationals who have experienced homelessness during the COVID 19 crisis.

It's a project that's funded by the ESRC and UKRI.

We're working with project partners, St Mungo's, the homelessness organisation, as well as nine other or eight other homelessness organisations across three cities, and also with colleagues at University of Sussex, including Roberta Piazza, who's who's here today.

And we've got Hayley Peacock here today, who's from who worked at St Mungo's, and that's how I met her.

So just going to provide sort of by providing some research context.

As you may have read, during the COVID crisis, the English in England, the UK government launched a scheme, put everyone in as part of a national COVID 19 response.

And one of the advantages of this was that it's required local government to temporarily house all all individuals, all homeless individuals in their area, regardless of their immigration status.

So these have many benefits.

Of course, it provided for many people, three meals, three regular meals a day provided a crucial moment of visibility, especially for migrants experiencing homelessness, provided accommodation and also access to health care and mental health support and so on.

So in this talk, I'm going to be talking about migrants experiences of homelessness during that, during the crisis.

But also I'm going to be highlighting some of the drawbacks of the scheme as well.

So it's worth pointing out that it remained embedded within the context of wider context of immigration governance and social inequality in the UK.

So I'm going to be talking about the tension or the play between visibility and invisibility, which is both my invisibles, migrant homelessness, the crisis, but also hyper visible ized migrants as undeserving, suspicious or as illegal subjects.

I'm going to provide a bit of context, first of all, and then I'm going to talk a little bit about the methods that we deployed in order to conduct this research.

And then I'll proceed to talk about some of the findings.

I'm going to draw on the findings using four case studies, if you like, from amongst the people that we have conducted life story interviews with.

But just provide a bit of context first.

And these these figures are highly inaccurate in many ways, but there are approximately 320,000 people experiencing homelessness in Britain, according to Shelter.

But as we'll see, you know, this talk from playing on the tension between visibility and invisibility, the number of homeless migrants is very hard to determine because because as well as I'll highlight, many migrants are experiencing forms of hidden homelessness.

It's not just migrants, but that they are particularly vulnerable to experience in terms of hidden homelessness.

And if you look at some of the definitions of homelessness provided by, for example, homelessness organisation, they provide a kind of typology of homelessness and the migrants aware that we're there are, that we've, that we've interviewed for across that whole spectrum of various forms of hidden homelessness.

So sleeping rough, sleeping in precarious accommodation as part of the informal economy and so on.

So we're also talking about migrants who inhabit a range of immigration profiles and in particular many of them, not all of them are impacted just again, to provide some context by no recourse to public funds conditions.

And this legislation blocks them from multiple forms of statutory support, including homelessness assistance and access to welfare.

In a just provide further context there are numerous challenges for for migrants who are actually eligible for support.

So those who have recourse to public funds such as gathering the requisite knowledge about where to get and how to access support.

Having staff who are qualified and able knowledgeable enough to to help them so.

And the housing crisis which is a sort of structural issue that provides a challenge for for those experiencing homelessness.

And also as we'll discuss in this discussion is talk their class and racialized position ality.

So more of that more of that later and one of the consequences of of the invisibility of migrant homelessness.

So in a funny way, that of the crisis, the COVID crisis brought it to the fore, made it visible.

But one of the consequences of its relative invisibility in the UK is also its relative absence from some sustained scholarly study, though there's quite a lot of work on asylum seekers and refugees and so on, but not so much on migrant homelessness more broadly.

So I've ended up and my colleagues and I have ended up getting entangled in several different bodies of literature, which is, as you know, anyone who's a scholar here can be challenging the dipping in and out of various bodies of literature.

And a lot of the literature that we have come across, so we're dipping into literature migration studies and on homelessness, the sociology of homelessness, when we're looking at issues of invisibility, there's quite a lot of literature that focuses on in migration studies, on the experiences of undocumented or illegal or irregular migrants, and they focus on the ways in which migrants make themselves invisible and hide away as a strategy.

And we're going to take a slight we're building on that, but we're taking a slightly a slightly different tack.

And we're also focussing on a broader range of homeless migrants.

So alongside the risk of what you might call what some have called methodological nationalism, which is, you know, relying on categorisations provided by state immigration apparatus, research often invisiblises the experiences of migrants who are actually documented or who are legal or who are regular.

So we're focussing on them, too.

So we're striving towards a conceptualisation of invisibility as emerging through the intersections of immigration, status, racialisation and class, and see an invisibility as a way of viewing or understanding the power dynamics beyond beyond kind of binaries or documented or undocumented and so on.

Because as you see in in this talk today, quite a few of the migrants we've spoken to have kind of gone from one to the other, have been they've been you know, they've had the right to be here at certain times.

Then they've become illegal, as it were, over the course of time, depending on their circumstances.

And so, as I say, so we're framing it slightly differently from some of the migration studies literature that that that tends to talk about strategies of the ways in which migrants hide and evade the law, especially in relation to Geneva's work on the de-portability regime.

So the ways in which people, you know, there's this fear of being deported is created by the spectacle of their portability.

But as you know, we're building on that, as is in our analysis of of life story interviews.

It's more we're finding that it's more that we're conceptualising it through this notion of cultivated invisibility.

So we're seeing it more as a habitual, deeply ingrained mode of practise through which migrants who are experiencing homelessness navigate their experiences of being read as other, both in racialized and in class terms.

So negotiating in the hostile immigration environment, but also negotiating conditions of material scarcity, negotiating, you know, nationalist politics, but also also austerity, neo liberal politics of austerity.

So in the course of their multiple engagements with what some in the literature have called the faces of the state, so not just people working for authorities, but also those who become ineffective, active faces of the state, working in charities and volunteer organisation and homelessness organisationss and so on.

So cultivated invisibility is a way of becoming invisible is in some ways something that is involuntary.

But it's it's also a mode of practise that involves staying on the move.

It involves blending into the crowd.

We found these stories again and again.

But it also involves moments when there were migrants coming forward for help but remain on the scene despite coming forward, were they ignored or they're somehow lower in the hierarchy than other people who are coming forward for help and therefore they feel that they're looked down upon or ignored.

So building on our analysis of invisibility in relation to illegality, we suggest that invisibility is not just an effect of being illegal or illegality, but it actually produces conditions of illegality.

So we've got migrants who become more, you know, more vulnerable to falling foul of the law on the wrong side of the law through their precarious situation, through their precarious housing situation, who've been made redundant and so on.

So cultivating invisibility is a practise, it's habitual, it's deeply ingrained in the body, but it does not deny the possibility of consciously formulated decisions.

And of course, we hear of these in the stories people are telling us, even if they're practical adaptations based on what's possible in the given circumstances.

So in our research, many, many of the participants gave us specific examples of how they sought to blend into the crowd to avoid suspicion, to avoid situations that might be threatening, to find ways of finding food or having a wash or whatever it is.

And we've got pictures of buses here because many of the interviewees, many of the respondents found that one place where they could practise cultivated invisibility was on night buses and they could sleep on the bus or often actually go on the early morning once with the commuters and and blend into the crowd and look ordinary as much as is possible.

So we are also conceptualising migrants as not clearly not a homogenised, homogeneous group in our in our research.

I mean, you can ask me about it later on if you want, but but where we're dealing with a whole range of migrants, many intra ethnic differences between them, but they share, in Zimmel's terms, the role of the stranger who comes today and stays tomorrow.

So they are the stranger in our midst.

But there's also a racialized dimension to it that I'm referring to.

We're referring to, and as Sara Ahmed reminds us, contrary to the assumption that the stranger is the one who we fail to recognise, the stranger comes to be marked as such precisely because they are always already recognised and recognisable as being out of place of not belonging.

Think of neighbourhood watch schemes.

Sara Ahmed refers to those in the UK.

Some are recognised as stranger than others as why are they there?

Why are they in that street?

So so we're thinking about this notion of invisibility, but also the figure, the social type that the classical social theorist Zimmel refers to as the stranger.

So we're referring.

So now I'm going to talk about the findings and the methods by which we conducted our research.

We work with nine organisations across three cities in the U.K. and a total of 70 interviews.

The first wave was with people working in the homelessness sector.

So we got a good sense of context about the COVID response in particular.

Then we proceeded to have a 43 multipart life story interviews sometimes two or three sittings with migrants experiencing homelessness.

And I can talk more about the ways in which we structured that to try and find an ethical way of doing it.

But of course, we faced technical challenges, much as we have today with faced with COVID restrictions.

We had to have a video call sometimes, face to face when one was possible at various times when the lockdown eased and we had interpreters in various instances.

All of these situations provide challenges, but we found that the pseudonymous life story methods helped us enormously in making sense of people's complex stories, that complex personhood, they're messy experiences.

And we found, especially for those with the particular vulnerability of those racialized as other, we found that the life story method provided a more participatory, dialogical and caring research method, a form of knowledge production.

And, you know, without overstating the case, because we're still very much aware of the power dynamics that are inherent in any kind of artificial situation, such as an interview.

We recognise also the potential for some therapeutic benefits in the course of having interviews, having people telling their stories, especially as we as they were relatively unstructured.

So I won't talk about the analysis for now or more about the just briefly about the benefits of of the life story.

So you had an interview, for example, with some Roma homeless migrants, and they were at the end of it, they were saying, thank you very much for the beautiful questions.

We don't normally get asked this kind of special kinds of questions.

Kids said, Oh, you know, it's a kind of therapy to me.

It doesn't make you feel like a number, you know, because the assessments.

So here is talking about the kind of paperwork that he's having to do when he's working with homelessness organisations to get support.

The assessment is always the same thing.

But yeah, talking is good, talking is good.

So, you know, not to say that some of the interviews weren't difficult, that there weren't some people who found it uncomfortable, but there were a lot of what we might call benefits, I suppose.

So now I'm going to talk about findings.

I'm going to I'm going to talk about, you know, this is this is just one you might say this is just one sliver of the project because we've only just finished gathering the data.

We're making sense of it, to be honest.

So this is this is new.

This is but this is one sliver of the findings I'm going to focus on now, this tension of invisibility and and hyper visibility and cultivated invisibility and so on.

So in doing so, I'm going to talk about the COVID crisis and the everyone in response.

So hidden homelessness I've mentioned and the notion of invisibility, cultivated invisibility of practise of making yourself invisible or blending in.

Albert typifies this a 71 year old from Germany who actually had the right to be here even post-Brexit if he gets his paperwork sorted.

But he found himself suddenly very deportable, in a sense.

He found himself very much on the wrong side of the law.

He got made redundant, slept, worked informally at a fast food restaurant, and the owner let him sleep there for a couple of hours at night.

And then he slept on the buses and he blended in with the early morning commuters.

So his strategy, if you like, or I prefer to call it his practise on the night buses, he says.

I used to make sure that I'd wake up on time so they wouldn't have to wake me up.

And sometimes when it was a long route and I wanted to change from another bus, I'd get off one or two bus stops too far, and then I'd have to walk back to where I wanted to go, which was no problem anyway.

At least I'd make sure that I didn't go right to the end of the route.

I found that out is very good as well.

So he found very various ways of adapting, of sleeping on the bus, of getting off, sometimes a few stops too early, not going to the end of the line or whatever it might be as a way of avoiding suspicion.

So cultivated invisibility for Albert was a means of adaptation to job loss, so not having a place to stay and also participation in the informal economy.

So he started to work for a friend of his who gave him a few quid a week to work in a market stall.

He also handed out some papers and things like that, all cash in hand.

But of course, this led to more exposure to illegality.

So here we see an example of someone who, you know, had the right to be here gradually becoming more illegal, as it were.

Joshua, another example, 75 year old from Singapore travelled to the UK to do a law degree in the eighties and his immigration status still has no recourse to public funding condition.

So he actually has no access, no rights to any welfare.

And yet he was somehow in the course of contesting his status and having been here for so long but not being able to prove, not been able to resolve his immigration status has been no, it can be very complicated.

He kind of trod water for a while because he had a job and only, you know, to put it bluntly, the shit only hit the fan when he was made redundant and then he lost his accommodation, which he'd had for 17 years.

So he started to move around amongst the crowd without being observed.

He used to take the number 25 bus, the longest service road in the UK, he says.

Used to start from Oxford Street in the west end of London.

Right to the east end of London.

Used to take it about nine or ten at night and he says, I would make up and down from one terminal to the other, three or four trips, and he registered at a gym where he could shower the exercise.

He washed his clothes.

But again, like Albert he became more exposed to illegality?

So what have you on in happened?

A lot of people like Albert and Joshua, we were able to meet and so it's thanks to everyone in that we're actually able to to to meet people who were otherwise practising, cultivated invisibility.

And so I'm going to introduce you to a couple more people.

So we've got Ali here and also Alexandra, who who had a similar situation.

And through them, we can see the benefits of what happened during everyone in.

So it was visiblising, if you like.

So Ali, a 41 year old from Afghanistan who actually had refugee status granted 22 years ago, and yet somewhat this is someone who had tried to come forward at various times had he ended up with a criminal record at one stage, and that made it difficult for him to have the access to benefits and so on.

So he was were accommodation.


But he he said when he was taken in during the everyone in initiative, he said, they clean your room, they do everything for you.

You have breakfast, you can have tea or coffee.

He was marvelling over this opportunity and that his accommodation is quiet, allowed him to manage his PTSD symptoms, deriving from his experiences in war torn Afghanistan.

So for Ali, it was the it was a feeling of being seen being visible, both as homeless and as an individual with a particular life story that was the most life changing consequence of everyone in.

So what the scheme has done during the pandemic is one of the homeless support workers says is increased the visibility of a lot of people that are rough sleeping who might have been missed or might not be assessed or might not be able to seek support.

So Jane's Homelessness Support Worker says we've seen a big increase in terms of the people we are seeing and are able to make referrals for quite a few people like Albert, the guy I mentioned a minute ago who could well have found he'd lost his papers because of course, if you're
homeless, you often lose your documents.

You don't you don't have history of your work and your employment, your accommodation about your person.

So when you have going to papers to prove who you are, you can end up in a lot of trouble, especially in the post-Brexit environment, when it was no longer able to stay unless you secured settled status or pre-settled status.

So, so these guys were able to get support from, from the organisations.

And Alexandru as well a 40 year old from Romania.

We had a lot of respondents from Romania.

He again typifies his experience, typifies many of our sample who's who ended up in the in the informal economy.

All of his employers paid cash in hand.

He wasn't made aware of requirements like having a national insurance number or he didn't know really the consequences of not paying tax.

And when when his work opportunities dried up, he was blocked from claiming welfare support as he was unable to prove that he'd been here working and he ended up rough sleeping.

But due to the everyone in scheme, he was able to secure a settled status alongside gaining knowledge of his employment standards of employment standards, of entitlements to welfare and how to actually access them.

And now, as a success story, he has permanent work and a secure tenancy of his own.

He says that aspects of the pandemic were actually lovely.

And it's the first time he had felt safe after years of sharing precarious accommodation and rough sleeping.

So but as I say, cultivating visibility, it's not just about hiding away.

It's also about in the interaction with with others.

It's about being made to feel invisible or being ignored and so on.

So even for those within the everyone in experience, it's worth pointing out, first of all, that quite a few people got missed.

I mean, the Roma people I mentioned earlier who were interviewed, they didn't they weren't taken in during everyone in at all.

So quite a few people were missed somehow, but also cultivated invisibility endures over time and new experiences reinforce it.

So we see in the case of Albert and Alexandra, that it persisted for Albert.

It remained ingrained in his body.

He was unable to sleep.

He was so used to being on night buses and snatching one hour of sleep here and there that he, when he actually had a room, is waking up all the time because he's not used to having a solid long sleep.

For Alexandru, it remained embedded in his interactions with service providers, so he felt that he was as a Romanian, he felt that he was down in the hierarchy and was not getting as much attention as other people.

So some felt invisible within the homelessness support services charged with their care, Alexandru said, I feel like they always put my requests at the bottom of the list.

I'm not complaining that they don't help.

It's just that they never seem to prioritise me.

And the support staff were not always there often.

And again, it's worth the caveat here, saying that it's very rare, one would imagine that people were deliberately ignoring Alexandru or being malicious or but some of this is is semi-conscious.

Some of this is pure also due to the fact that many of the staff were not equipped to provide the requisite advice.

So as one support worker says, I've never worked with any migrants before.

I didn't know the difference between pre-settled and settled status.

I didn't know.

I didn't know that they had to apply for this.

I didn't know any of this.

So I've had to try and learn and do the best I can for him all at the same time.

So we've had instances where you've had people working the support in the homelessness sector who have, you know, who have been looking stuff up on Google, who have been asking someone to interpret, who happens to be working on security but can speak Romanian or Polish or something like that.


So you've had all this kind of ad hoc stuff due to a lack of immigration training and even in the places where, where, where there was lots of support for lots of immigration advice available or they were experts there.

We spoke to some of these guys.

There were still not enough to go round for everyone..

Out of all the people in the sector, they they nearly all recommended more funding for immigration advice and for interpretation support.


Then there was also the experiences of hyper visibility.

So I heard some findings.

I was presented in an ESRC event the other day and I heard some interesting findings from another bit of research from homelessness where they found that actually in the regions in Wales where they started to study, fewer people who are homeless got COVID than people who were not homeless.

And that's partly because the everyone in initiative and its equivalents across across Britain, they lock people away.

So this had many benefits, but also some of the respondents felt that there were prison like conditions.

They felt stigmatised, matter out of place.

And these uncomfortable experiences that resulted from coming forward for help illuminate the reasons why perhaps cultivated invisibility is necessary in the first place.

And many of the Roma respondents we spoke to, they talked about how, you know, it's been ingrained in their family history not to trust people in working for the state or in authority because of such bad experiences in in the history of the Roma people.

But also we see that there are various forms of surveillance deployed during the everyone in initiative and scholars in the field have drawn attention to how surveillance is actually a racialized technology of discipline in which the state and experiences of being observed increase and deepen with one's perceived distance from normative whiteness.

So so this was something that the respondents didn't use those very words, but I used words to that effect.

Ali talked about how his he felt that he was being looked down upon.

He felt that some of the people, they were racist.

He felt that his PTSD symptoms were exacerbated by knocks on the door noisy neighbours.

There were modes of visibility or we might say hyper visibility, which felt uncomfortable, intimidating and frightening.

The use of security guards, prison like conditions.

But furthermore, it inculcated in some of them a sense like Joshua, who I referred to earlier, he he felt a need to justify his presence within support services as a migrant.

He felt hyper visible and potentially undeserving.

He talked again and again about how he he didn't want to impose and how he you know, he kind of expressed shame at being in the situation that he was in.

So he expressed the feeling of being stigmatised or being matter out of place of or of being undeserving in some ways.

So these are experiences of of of hyper visibility.

So I'll give you a bit of a rattle through some of the findings that I'm going to draw some of the conclusions from this sliver of the research.

As I say, there's much more to come, really.

And Roberta, who's here and I are working on a piece, Hailey, who's here, and we're working on a report that we're going to publish in due course in collaboration with St Mungo's.

But here I'm going to draw some conclusions from this paper, this sliver of it, with this riffing on the notion of visibility and invisibility and cultivated invisibility.


So we found really through this bit of analysis, through these case studies, and it's worth pointing out that we've we've used this technique of creating vignettes as well.

So when we've done these multiple interviews, we've got hours and hours of material.

We also write up a story.

Each of us has done an interview to encapsulate the story that we've been told as a way of somebody it up vividly in a short piece, partly as an aide memoire, but also partly in a sense of research method itself.

So through the analysis of these four particular case studies that I've looked at, we've looked at Ali and Alexandru and Joshua and Albert, each of whom has slightly different immigration status.

So one is had refugee status one.

One is a EEA migrant who is needing to get settled status.

One has been here for a long time, has the right to be here, but now needs to prove it..

What analysis has shownOh and one has no records to public funds, and even though it was born in the British Empire and would have been a British subject at one stage, is now not able to stay unless he can resolve his immigration situation.

And after many years, it looks like he's about to do that.


So in conclusion, if I draw a couple of bits of sections as a conclusion, first of all, we found that the everyone in initiative provides a key moment in which we can actually conceptualise migrant invisibility.

So not just from the selfish point of view, have been doing some research to have been made, it been able to be put in contact with people who otherwise wouldn't have been available to speak to us.

More significantly, of course, for the migrants themselves who are experiencing homelessness.

The suspension of status based eligibility criteria enabled for them an unprecedented precedented proximity to homelessness assistance.

But we also found that there were residues or invisibility even within the everyone in initiative.

Some people didn't find their way into the hotels for various reasons, but there was also a lack of preparedness to working with migrants, which led to fresh experiences of invisibility within the services themselves.

And at the same time, as I mentioned in the latter part of the talk, many of the migrants felt that they were made hyper visiblised through various forms of surveillance, regimentation through the prism prison like conditions.

At times they felt stigmatised as matter out of place.

I mean, you know, some of it might sound trivial, but actually is quite significant.

Things like food.

It was very difficult for them to for many of the people we spoke to to get the kind of food that they were used to or wanted.

And there was there was a kind of standardisation that went on a one size fits all, which, of course, was good because they had food but but bad in as much as they didn't feel that they were being particularly listened to as individuals.

And we found that this notion of cultivated invisibility has helped us to think through.

I mean, you'll note that at the beginning of this lecture I had a picture of someone asleep in a McDonald's.

So rather than a stereotypical picture of a homeless person in a sleeping bag outside a shop, which is a kind of stock image, which of course is very accurate, nothing wrong with it.

But but in some ways, the picture I picked at beginning encapsulates this notion of cultivated invisibility, that it's a it's a way in which, rather than a strategic mode of action, it's a it's a more habitual, embodied mode of practise created out of, on the one hand, conditions of material scarcity, you know, these side effects of, you know, gross grotesque inequality, housing crisis, housing shortage, austerity policies, the cutting back of the social state.

So conditions of material scarcity, but also out of a sense of fear or suspicion generated in the course of multiple engagements over time with what we might call racial capitalism, various faces of the state.

So so we found that it involves blending into the crowd and staying on the move as a means of survival, but also results from uncomfortable experiences of having actually come forward in search of help but still feeling invisiblised.

So in some we found that as individuals have become increasingly invisiblised, you know, not this is pre-dates the covid crisis really.

And this is through experiences, again, at the intersections of class and race, through precarious employment, job loss, homelessness, destitution, exclusion from access to the welfare state and being subject to hostile environment policies.

Their exposure to illegality is increased and exacerbated.

So there we go that is that is the end of my talk for now.

So thank you.

Thank you very much Simon.

That was really, really, very interesting and very important research.

And so it's a new presentation.

There's more to come, as you said, because you're going to publish a few more papers and so you are going to expand this research.

Well, I have a question for you.

It's going to be the first one.

[Silence] And probably they missed these human interactions.


There was a.


I mean, I guess you could say that there was a.

It was a strange mixture of all of that, compounding the feeling of invisibility, the sense of being disconnected, disembedded or lacking a community, lacking it, feeling like outsiders, pariahs and so on.

There was that.

But then there was also surprising.

There was, surprisingly.

There were stories, so many stories of ad hoc generosity whereby people were coming forward to them and giving them mobile phones or even giving them food or offering them a place where they could stay and so on.

So there was a there was a mixture of the two, in a sense, a sort of where on the one hand, they they were and this this was particularly, I think you know, some of the insights or about that that we gained from those who perhaps you might say had fallen quickly were quite, quite particularly stark.

So we had it, for example, an Iranian guy who had been an upper class guy with a very lavish lifestyle, but it had become he was here, he had all his assets frozen.

And basically it was a sort of political exile, if you like.

So he suddenly experienced a sense of people not wanting to go near him and from having been at the other end of the social hierarchy.

So yeah, but sure, there were experiences of where people had, as you had in that sense, sort of embodied the, the stigma and the sense that they were disconnected, looked down upon and so on.

But but as I say, on the other hand, there were surprisingly, surprisingly numerous stories of ad hoc generosity, but actually often compensated for the lack of statutory support or you know, people often got quite a few of the people we spoke to got their got their advice about where to get help from other people in the street.

So, you know, this is another interesting thing.

Charlotte is not here today, but she gave a talk to the two NHS doctors to advise them about about where they can go for support so they can advise migrants experiencing homelessness about where they can go to get support and so on.

So that was a surprise.

So, so in some ways, the informal generosity of people in the street was, was, was as present as hostility and people avoiding them.

And yeah, and also I suppose the other thing is, I mean, the cynical point would be that they were going back to untouchable some would be that know.

So rather than it being a philanthropic thing, everyone name was in great part a means of keeping the contageous apart from the potentially, you know, homeless as undesirables away from ordinary people, wasn't it?

In some ways, I mean, not entirely.

I think we can entirely call it a cynical exercise, but there was probably an element of that in some people's minds at least.

Really interesting.

And I have another related question, but probably later, because I'd like to let our colleagues the audience to ask a few questions.

So do we have questions and simply raise your hand really?

Because, you know, as as you do for technical reasons, I can't really see my screen and ask the questions as usual.

We're sitting here.

We're here and we we can't hear you.

They're saying they can't hear you at the moment.

Can't you can't hear me very well.

All right.

So do you do you have questions?

They can now.

I think that's our technology, right?

Do you have questions, people?

And if so, feel free to raise your hand and ask a question.

Oh, yeah.

I see.

There's one from Bethany.


Go ahead, Bethany.


I think he thinks I mean, that was really fascinating and sobering.

I was just interested in the the differences between the sort of age groups of and the participants.

Inoticed  it's quite a few sort of older participants and or respondents.

And I just wondered whether there was any interesting intersections of age, ethnicity, migrant status, class, you know, for example, in terms of accessing services, because quite often older people are prioritised in terms of social housing.

And I just wondered whether that was they're not eligible because they're migrant status and sort of intersections of these identities playing out and you know, or possibly also state pensions as well, you know, in relation to sort of benefits.

And and I just also just had a question about obviously the pandemic is not really finished with us yet.

So what's happened subsequently to homeless people?

And are you doing some sort of follow up study to look at sort of their experiences after this this policy is sort of finished?

Thanks for that, too.

Two really good questions actually about the the age thing.

I mean, it was interesting because we started out interviewing mainly, you know, there was a middle age and above there's quite skew towards an older, older cohort, many of whom had lost their paperwork, were struggling much more, especially as it's difficult to deal with the Home Office anyway, but especially if they didn't have the technology or weren't technologically savvy.

So so in many ways they had the older cohort had it harder in a sense, or towards the end of the research, we ended up working with two or three homelessness organisations for young people specifically, and they just seemed to be a lot more optimism around the place and the ways in which they were working with these young people to get them support and so on.

And they seemed to be they seem to be in a better position in a way, or that there were more routes.

I thought it seemed to be the case out of homelessness that were being formulated.

So I think I think age is you know, if I was talking about intersectionality, that age is something that maybe we could pick up on more, actually.

So so that's a really good thing to raise, actually.

So thanks for that.

In terms of what's going on now, it's quite tricky for us because we are still working with these organisations and we are asking them and and of course we're no longer in direct contact with people experiencing homelessness.

I think we know I'd like to do a follow on study and there's a lot to deal with this at the moment, but that we will that we will work with first.

And we have we've heard some success stories.

But of course when we speak to the homelessness organisations, they're often telling us their picture of it, their view on it.

So I can't say I've got a really clear view on it at the moment and it's something that we're trying to get a clearer view of, of what's going on because it's quite, as I say, it stays very.

You know, the people in Westminster, for example, they talked about how when the Everyone in initiative was announced, there was suddenly an influx of loads of people who they didn't even know were homeless.

So it's a bit like that now.

It's the reverse.

It blending back is so.

So it's especially with migrant homelessness or with people who are in the informal economy, it's really difficult to get a sense of what's happening to them now.

There were quite a few people, especially from Romania actually, who were caught up in a sort of in a fairly horrendous, informal network of dodgy jobs and dodgy accommodation linked to the jobs where they'd be sort of sleeping many to a room and at the whim of the landlord who's kicked them out if they if they made redundant from the, from the job that's connected the accommodation.

So yeah, so we're trying to, we're trying to find out more about what's happened since, but it's quite tricky actually.

I think it's incredibly precarious and thanks Simon's its really interesting.

Of course access to interviews, fieldwork is particularly tricky Simon.

Would you like to say a bit more about how you managed to have access to this sample of people?


What was the support of the NGO you work with in particular?


So we had.

So, so I assume we've got two other hands up.

So I last speak to those in the moment.

I just answer Leila's question which was about access.

So I mean I read a really interesting study, a couple of really interesting studies that inspired me quite a bit.

One was Mitchell Dounier, a sociologist who did a study in New York where he went round and looked at these guys who were selling stuff that they found in the bins and the way in which they might do and so on.

And that was an ethnography.

And I read another one about Homeless in Las Vegas.

So we didn't do that.

We didn't go out into the streets and sort of immerse ourselves in it.

But we kind of work.

We found our respondents through the homelessness organisations and through working with Hailey, who's here today.

And so, so it was a way of I guess we found it was also a way of building in an ethical dimension to the actual research process whereby we were able to, you know, have various things lined up in case the respondents needed support after the interview and so on.

That's the way it was through.

We were reliant on the organisations putting us in touch with their clients basically.

And of course that was sometimes difficult because it had to be done online and they didn't have they'd have to find a room where there's a laptop or sometimes it's in person and then they might not turn up or go to a place wait for the day.

Hailey and I spent a few days sitting in cafes waiting for people to turn on.

And so it was there's things like that, which which.

So it was a it was a very much a it required a fair bit of initiative and and pestering people as well.

So and also, we, you know, we we were giving people food vouchers and so on for participating.

So we tried to provide incentives as well to make it fair.

Who had the hand up first?

I see.

Roberta, you've got your hand up.



Thank you.

Thank you.

So, so interesting.

I mean, of course, I know part of and some of it and we talked about it, but seeing it and hearing it all together, that's impressive.

And I was actually thinking that one of not just not to blow our own trumpets, but trumpet.

But I think one of the the pluses of this research is that it looks into homelessness specifically because we don't know who these homeless people be.

People who are experiencing homelessness are.

And so this is a list one way into it, one section of this incredible number of people who suffer this terrible, terrible problem.

So this is also, I think, is a very good contribution.

And also, I was thinking of a comment which is, you know, we're really talking here about intersectionality because there is the homelessness, the sleeping roughness or the rough sleeping ness and the the the migration issues are the two combined together.

And I was wondering whether you were talking about some of the features you've discussed are really typical of the way or the strategies that rough sleepers have.

So for instance, I'm blending in with normal people, going to McDonalds, sleeping on buses, sleeping on going to the library and spending hours and hours and hours there.

So this is typical.

These people have really, of course, endorsed and employed these strategies.

On the other hand, I think the the migrants have their peculiarities.

They have their own strategies.

First, I remember that through being assigned to social work, as I remember some of the interviews I carry out have revealed that people really, for instance, wanted to go back to Nigeria and they hadn't had any chance to tell anyone.

So I think that the flip what do you call it, a part of the of the coin is that the side of the coin is that through the kind of invisible, obvious invisible visibility they they they expressed they made their needs clear.

And so in some cases, they were helped in that way.

And right now, I don't know whether that woman I remember very clearly managed to go back, but some others had were helped with their documents.

For instance, as you said, many, many, many of them lose their the the papers.

So I think it's it's fascinating to actually see what are the features specifically of of them being migrants.

And the features of being homeless without of those essentials to them and without taking, you know, coping with them and dealing with them as as a whole, you know, group of people, which are not everybody's is different, of course.


And in fact, that was what the interesting thing about the staff interviews is that they draw attention to differences between migrant homeless and British homeless.


So the migrant homeless, there were fewer instances of drug use, drug addiction and alcoholism, although there was some.

Not to say that just as one example.

But yeah, I think there are distinct differences and the Roma interviewees that that we that we spoke to also had their own, you know, distinctive practises associated with how they make do and how they, you know, they were more overtly begging and, you know, they had a camp and so on and so so yeah, different groups had different what the Romanian guys were more there was more of a structure, an informal network that they were that supported their sort of hidden homelessness and through precarious accommodation and, and work and so on.

So yeah, no, I think it's an interesting point.

The fact that we focussed on, you know, a distinction between migrant homes, non-UK nationals and British homeless as well as within and between the different groups of migrants.

Yeah, I'm conscious we're running out of time, so we've run out of time.

We'll quickly hear from Marius?


Thanks, Simon.

Endorse the earlier comments.

Really powerful stuff.

I just wondered if, in view of this very strong concept of cultivated invisibility and hyper visibility and then that the way that works within broader regimes of visibility or invisibility.

So I'm just thinking of, you know, the way that certain sort of socially competitive self presentation through social media or, you know, advertising and things like that where you have a constant emphasis on faces and portraits and so on in our visual culture.

And I'm just wondering, is there did you ever think about responsible, socially responsible ways of representing individuals who are subjected to this kind of cultivated invisibility, which is threatened by hyper visibility?

So in other words, would there be a photography project or did you have to think about some way of altering that regime simply through visual representation?


I mean, Hailey, you're able to speak to this because this is a this is a good we actually have I know if you era, but we've actually got something kind of in plan, just before Hailey, if I doesn't mind speaking about that but just before she does even the vignette we're trying to we're putting together an idea of a book of the vignettes which tell their stories, but also with extracts from from the interviews.

So that's a way for even that.

Of course, it's imperfect.

I mean, it's interesting.

There is quite a bit there is some literature on this, this idea of representation or using aesthetics to help hitherto marginalised groups.

But Hayley, you want to explain about a possible lie there.

Yeah, sure.

Can you you can hear me or.

I'm in a bit of a busy lunchtime cae.

Also if you want.

No, no, no.

It's okay.

As long as you can hear me.


If it's clear enough.





So there's a couple of things.

Firstly, I think you're right.

Thank you so much for the question.

We also have a blog.

So there's two parts to this, is the blog that we charlotte mainly was responsible for a lot of that had a lot of imagery and I remember in early discussions we wanted to make sure that we weren't reproducing some of the stereotypical visual cultures around what people experiencing homelessness might look like because of course As we discovered in the research, there's a huge number of people who had a lot more hidden homelessness experiences, like speaking on buses and like what Simon has mentioned in the presentation.

So we wanted to make sure that, for instance, some of the imagery that we used, we had that checked through with the homelessness organisations that we partnered with to ensure that they kind of had sign off on that as well.

So not just the text but also that the imagery used because that's a really important part of I think ensuring that the research doesn't just keep reproducing these narratives.

Secondly, we're working on something really exciting.

So like Simon mentioned, we've got the vignettes which are little captured stories about the individuals who spoke to the 43 migrants we worked with.

And what we wanted to do is wedidn't want to just be like a texual based piece or an outfit or that was going to hopefully be a collection or a little book.

We want to have some form of co-production involved in that.

So allowing that people who had lived experience of homelessness to have very similar kind of situations to the people in the stories, have them kind of read through them and to capture what some of the imagery that they feel they see is emerging from their stories and try and give them the tools to be able to express themselves either verbally.

But also we want to train them in things like illustration and drawing.

And so that that's something that we've been focussing on, I think more in the kind of spring summer time with some of the organisations we've partnered with and we've had a really good response from some of the clients that we spoke to.

We kind of gave them the idea and we understood a lot about their stories and about the things they're interested in.

It turns out a lot of them are artists or they did graphic design before and there's quite a big interest in that.

So that will be really cool.

I think that'll be a really nice way for them to have a bit more of a role I think in some of the outfits where traditional kind of academic work might not always allow for that kind of space.

So, so yeah, that's something that we know visual thing that we're doing.


Thanks for that.

If you've got, I'm not touting, but I'm from the School of Art, Design and performance and I have colleagues that I'm sure would be eager to contribute in this way.

Well, you know, so a new kind of work in related areas.


That sounds great.


Thanks, Marius.


Well, I'm aware that we're at seven past.

We started a bit late, but.




Yeah, but it was fascinating.

So we don't mind.

We started late and we had technical issues on stuff that was not ready now, hence.

Thank you so much, Simon.

That was really very interesting.

And as I said before, very important as well.

So I hope you grow your study published immensely on the same and it has an impact on the people who are very much concerned.

Thank you very much, everyone, for being such a great audience.

Such a very faithful and always on time and interested audience, as you know my name is Leila Choukroune,
Professor of International Law, The director of the Democratic Citizenship Theme.

You can see our Research Futures webinar and this particular results future webinar from Simon Online.

And I'd like to thank my team in particular, Dr. He Yuan, who is here today and our RIS team as well for their support.

Thank you so much everyone.

We will have more of these pretty soon.

So keep keep your eyes open.

Thanks then.

Thanks again, Simon.

Thank you.

Thank you so.

Many thanks, everybody.

Thank you.

Democratic Citizenship

Safe, democratic and sustainable societies rely on the people in them being active, informed and engaged. Explore how we're working towards a better society.

Abstract art
Read more

Centre for European and International Studies Research

We're researching topics such as citizenship, race, language across borders, social theory and transnational politics.

European union flags
Read more

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Explore more about the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, teaching and research activities taking place across the faculty's four schools and institutes.

Female students in museum looking at antique boat
Read more about the Faculty