Keeping one eye on the bus: a tribute to Doreen Massey

First published on Street Signs the blog for the Centre for Urban and Community Research here

My friend Hannah once handed me a badge with a woman’s face on it, she’d been at a feminist geography workshop. ‘I tried to get you Doreen Massey, but they ran out straight away’. This is one of the many things that have popped into my head since learning of Doreen Massey’s death on Friday. On hearing of her death I discounted it as a rumour. How could someone who is so embedded and such a vital part of things be gone?

Doreen Massey’s influence for me is less like a badge worn and more like a name running through a stick of rock. Her thinking is fundamental to the way I interpret the world. I never met her – I always assumed I would, it never occurred that there might be a time limit on this – and so I have encountered her only through her work. There will be many tributes this week from those who knew Doreen Massey as a teacher, activist, colleague and from those of us whom she has inspired in different ways. This tribute of my own is not exhaustive but just a piece of that jigsaw puzzle of appreciation.

Doreen Massey’s writing on how places are shaped through the movement of capital and people has taught us so much about the macro processes that shape cities, for example, in ‘World City’ how the movement of capital distorts not only London but also the places around it. Theoretical writing on cities can feel disembodied and detached but Doreen Massey’s work doesn’t feel like that. I think this is about how she also saw things from the perspective of the street or the bus and uses this to tell us about power and how people are differentially positioned. Here is an example from ‘Space, Place and Gender’:

‘I can remember very clearly a sight which often used to strike me when I was nine or ten years old. I lived then in the outskirts of Manchester, and ‘Going into Town’ was a relatively big occasion; it took half an hour and we went on the top deck of a bus. On the way into town we would cross the wide shallow valley of the River Mersey, and my memory is of dank, muddy fields spreading away into a cold misty distance. An all of it– all of these areas of Manchester – was divided into football pitches and rugby pitches…

I remember all of this sharply. And I remember, too, it striking me very clearly– even then as a puzzled, slightly thoughtful little girl – that this huge stretch of the Mersey flood plain had been entirely given over to boys.’ (1994, 185)

She uses this one beautifully written example of how ‘spaces are gendered through and through’ and then takes it as a jumping off point for exploring regional policy, employment, and caring as labour. It is hard to imagine more masculinist critical geographers asking questions about mundane gendered experiences of inequality and spatial practices (‘Who goes to the launderette? Who picks the children up from school’ (1994, 190)) when discussing patterns of employment, power and the making of space.

A second related – and much quoted – example comes from Massey’s critique of Harvey’s concept of space-time compression, in questioning the argument that flows of capital and the speeding up of life brought about by new technologies have left us placeless she argues:

‘For amid the Ridley Scott images of world cities, the writing about skyscraper fortresses, the Baudrillard visions of hyperspace … most people actually still live in places like Harlesden or West Brom. Much of life for many people, even in the heart of the First World, still consists of waiting in a bus-shelter with your shopping for a bus that never comes’ (1994, 163)

Here we are, back to the bus again. This time, the experience is linked to what Massey names ‘power geometry’. Who gets to have control over their movement? Who speeds around the world and who is waiting for the bus?

In her much-cited essay ‘A Global Sense of Place’ she imagines zooming out and looking at earth from space and being able to see the flows of technology and aeroplanes but also slower movements, a woman gathering water on foot. But she then zooms back in to Kilburn High Road and takes us for a walk down it in order for us to see how a sense of place, Kilburn, involves links to other places (‘In two shops I notice this week’s lottery winners: in one the name is Teresa Gleeson, in the other, Chouman Hassan’). I think of this essay when I read Zadie Smith’s description of Edgware Road in her novel NW or when I walk down my local high street.

Massey understood how capital shapes and distorts but also how not everything is reducible to capital. Understanding race and gender as axes of power that shape space is important. The ordinary culture of a place, how this links to other places and how these juxtapositions can result in new happenings is important. This is politically vital at a time when politicians present us with an enclosable little England.

What I take from Massey’s work is the need to keep one eye on global capital and another on the bus.



We are on the brink of a homelessness crisis among young people

My article on youth homelessness published in The Guardian here yesterday.


When the rapper Professor Green set out to explore contemporary experiences of homelessness among young people for a BBC3 documentary, airing on Tuesday 9 February,, he came to see me as I had spent a year conducting ethnographic research with young homeless people in London.

Youth homelessness is already a problem in the UK and the safety net is being further eroded through proposed changes to housing benefits. The consequences could be disastrous.

It is difficult to calculate the exact number of young homeless people in the UK. In 2015, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Research found that 83,000 young people had been accommodated by local authorities or homelessness services in the previous year and in 2014, Crisis found that 8% of 16- to 24-year-olds said they had been homeless in the previous five years. Street homelessness is also on the rise, up 40% in London since 2011.

Yet youth homelessness is not limited to the young people who are visible on the streets – others are “sofa-surfing” or living in temporary hostels – or to those who approach their council for assistance.

As Professor Green, real name Stephen Manderson, says in the documentary: “Homelessness isn’t just about not having a home. Once people have been on the streets, what it does to them psychologically, who they become and how they become accustomed to living their life doesn’t just go away once they get a home. Being in a hostel, you’re not counted as being homeless, but you are still very much homeless, that’s become quickly apparent.”

Access to emergency accommodation has also become more difficult in places where homelessness is most acute. New Horizon Youth Centre made the headlines for providing young homeless people in London with bus tickets for the night in cases when emergency hostel accommodation was unavailable. This is in part because of the extension of the “local connection” policy to hostels, which means that the money for beds is ringfenced for those who can prove a connection to the local authority, and also because young people are increasingly priced out of the private rental market in the capital.

When trying to assist young homeless people, charities are in a double bind. They must provide emergency short-term solutions (bus tickets, food parcels) but their funding often requires measurable outcomes, such as the progress of an individual into education or employment – difficult when that individual is sleeping on the night bus.

The scrapping of housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds is likely to have devastating consequences. We can expect to see even more young homeless people on the street and charities under more pressure to clothe and feed them. There will also be less visible consequences. Young people in violent domestic situations may be less inclined to seek help to leave, while others will be forced to stay in overcrowded conditions.

It is extremely difficult for a young person to gain and sustain employment or to access education without a stable base. During my research, I became used to hearing hopes and dreams put on hold for “when my housing’s sorted”. To keep someone in a state of homelessness without the means to pay for accommodation is to keep them from accessing a future.

The housing bill that will further institutionalise private ownership as a solution will do little to help young homeless people. Meanwhile, extending the right to buy to housing associations will further erode the social housing stock, and the switch to five-year tenancies for social tenants will create further housing instability.

These changes are happening in a context where the rate of youth unemployment is three times that of overall employment and young people are disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions. The impact of benefit stoppages can be devastating. In my own research, a youth worker recalled an example where a homeless young man was walking eight miles a day in each direction, just to be able to get a free lunch from a central London day centre. Beth Watts, in research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that under-25s face a substantially higher risk of being sanctioned than older adults, with 8% of this age group now affected per month.

Research from Homeless Link found that while 3% of those claiming jobseeker’s allowance were sanctioned, this rose to almost a third among homeless people. When taken together, these statistics paint a grim picture of the pressures on young homeless people.

We are on the brink of a homelessness crisis and young people are going to bear the brunt.



London: What happened to Social Mobility in the Arts?

Screenshot 2016-01-06 13.49.02

At the end of last year, I was part of a panel discussion arranged by CREATE London on the issue of London and the future of London as a creative place. The full video of the debate has just been put online and is available here. The panel had quite divergent opinions which kept things interesting.

The panel was chaired by Zoe Williams and consisted of Dawn FosterAdham FaramawyNiru Ratnam and Mark Brearley.

This event was part of a larger programme ‘Panic! What happened to social mobility in the arts?‘  based on a new survey on the experiences and backgrounds of those working in the arts. Not all of the findings are out yet, but some of the headline findings are:

• If you earn over £50,000 p/a you are most likely to believe that you got there through hard work, talent and ambition. If you earn under £5,000 p/a you are most likely to believe that it’s not about what you know but who you know.

• White people in the arts don’t acknowledge the barriers facing BAME people trying to find a foothold in the sector. While 44% of those from BAME backgrounds felt ethnicity was either “essential” or “very important” to getting ahead in the arts, only 12% of white participants saw it as an issue.

• Women are more likely than men to have worked in the arts sector for free and once paid are generally paid less than their male counterparts.

• Almost 90% of the 2,539 respondents had been required to work for free at some point in their career

More on the survey here12065939_1023635617659443_6074349323203692021_n




Watching ‘Capital’ Part 2: : Everyday encounters, multiculture and racism


Ahmed (ADEEL AKHTAR), Petunia (GEMMA JONES) – (C) Kudos – Photographer: Hal Shinnie

‘You wouldn’t find a doctor down here before. Or a banker. Albert was a solicitor’s clerk. And then the immigrants started coming. West Indians first, then Indians, like yourself…’ Petunia to Ahmed ‘Capital’ episode 2.

The first episode of Capital started with Petunia sitting in Ahmed’s shop. Petunia is the oldest and one of the last remaining working class residents of Pepys Road. She moved into the house as a new bride and is fighting a battle with her daughter to be allowed to die there. Ahmed is a shopkeeper – and put upon dad/husband/brother/son. Both actors (Gemma Jones and Adeel Akhtar) put in beautiful and understated performances. So much is conveyed through their faces and non-verbal communication. In this opening scene Petunia recalls the changes the street has been through – a handy narrative substitute for the book’s prologue that describes exactly this process. Ahmed listens to her patiently, only stopping her to clarify that he is Pakistani not Indian. When Petunia is not well enough to physically go to the shop they both enquire after each other. Meanwhile, Petunia’s daughter gets annoyed at her mother’s repeated praise for Mr Kamal, taking it as a dig that she doesn’t do enough.

In ‘Capital’ this relationship is an exception. Interactions between neighbours are minimal. This is a portrayal of crisscrossing lives that only occasionally connect across different class and ethnic differences; ‘Bogdan’ the Polish builder hangs out with the other Polish builder; Roger (the banker) endures the company of his fellow (predominantly white, male) workers; Quentina (the traffic warden) struggles to connect with anyone because of her precarious immigration status and despised role in the community until she meets Mashinko at church. The postcards reading ‘We want what you have’ at least provide a talking point between people.

The impact of living in cities on our social interactions is one that has preoccupied sociologists and philosophers since the Nineteenth Century. Engels looks at the crowds of people in London, ignoring each other:

‘After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two … One realises that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature … The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other are they not human beings with the same qualities and the same interest in being happy?’[1]

Despite the differences between the theorists of this period they were all grappling with a phenomenon of industrialisation, the move from close–knit community (gemeinshaft) to urban society (gesellschaft), from kinship networks to the company of strangers, from serfdom to wage labour. These ideal types don’t always stand up – ‘I’ve lost all of my gesellschaft’ lamented a colleague to me recently after getting involved in a local campaign thus forsaking his local anonymity – but still the question about what the city does to human interaction and forms of community remains. In particular, a key question for those studying cities today is how people live in close proximity with difference.

We get a hint in Petunia’s opening statement that the arrival of ‘immigrants’ is not something her late husband would’ve approved of, whereas Petunia is quite at ease with this now. We can think of this process as what Stuart Hall called ‘multicultural drift’, a sense of something new becoming normal and accepted over time (‘just having them [people from other cultures] around, they weren’t going to eat you, they didn’t have tails. The smartest guy in the store is probably black. You turn on the television and the guy singing is probably black’). Places can change through what people do, but changing places can also act on people.

Alongside this gentle friendship we see violent state incursions into the lives of the people who live and work on Pepys Road, firstly Quentina. Frustrated with the restrictions that stop those seeking asylum from working, she has taken on fake ID in order to work as a traffic warden. Her status is discovered by the police because of the investigation into the ‘we want what you have’ postcards. We see her handcuffed and put in the back of a van, transported to a detention centre where she is put into another limbo, waiting for news of her appeal. This character is given more time in the series than in the book and Wunmi Mosaku’s powerful performance is important. Such rounded portrayals of those with irregular migration status and their experiences are rare in a context of intensifying dehumanisation in UK political and media discourse over the last couple of years.

The episode ends with a shocking raid on the Kamal’s house the family we have seen joking, eating, arguing, are forced to their knees by armed police and humiliated in front of their neighbours (how magnificent is Shabana Azmi in that scene?).

As I argued in the previous blog, in ‘Capital’ (the book) some of these plot lines and characterisation verges on caricature. However, the careful rendering in the screenplay and the skillful performances of the actors turn this around. For me, Capital (the TV version) provides a way to think through the co-existence of multiculture and forms of racism, here as enshrined in the violence of immigration law, that are part of everyday London life. As Anamik Saha and I argued in our recent call for conference papers ‘The experience of urban multiculture is not always convivial or fraught; instead it is complex, rich, contradictory and multi-layered.’

[1] Engels, F. (1845) ‘The Great Towns’ in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’

Watching ‘Capital’ and Researching the Middle Classes in London

‘For the first time in history, the people who lived on the street were, by global and even by local standards, rich.’ Prologue to ‘Capital’ John Lanchester (2012)

In 2010, I began work as a researcher on the project ‘The Middle Classes and the City’ as part of a team of nine. Four of us were studying London, the others Paris. We were seeking to explore the questions ‘what does the city do to the middle classes and what do the middle classes do to the city?’ We approached this by studying a range of neighbourhood types ‘a gentrifying inner city neighbourhood’, ‘a gentrified neighbourhood’, ‘a suburb’, ‘a gated community’ and an ‘ex-urban neighbourhood’ in both cities and carrying out interviews with middle class people living in those neighbourhoods. Towards the end of the project in 2012, the novel ‘Capital’ by John Lanchester came out. And all of the London research team promptly read it.

On reading the book’s prologue, I was convinced that Lanchester was writing about a particular street in one of our research neighbourhoods, part of Balham. The stories I had been told about the changing landscape of the street chimed perfectly with Lanchester’s opening description of Pepys Road. Even the details of its architectural quirks were the same. He was not. He was writing about neighbouring Clapham at the time of the financial crisis but, interestingly, when adapting the book for television in 2015 the programme makers have set the story around Balham and Tooting. The processes of an incoming, predominantly white, upper middle class from the financial sector and of massive house remodelling and the gradual displacement of an ethnically mixed population of working class and lower middle class residents described in the novel in Clapham in 2008 were unfolding in Balham in 2010.

The novel has serious flaws. Lanchester is better on class and finance than everyday multiculturalism and there is some clunky and two-dimensional characterisation based around archetypes – for example, the British Pakistani family who run the corner shop and have a plotline involving extremism – that have been rounded out by some of the talented actors in the TV adaptation. However, the prologue to the book remains an insightful piece of sociology. It captures the churn and the remaking of houses in the image of the incomers, and the labour that these projects require. ‘If they’re not going up, they’re going down’ said one research participant about the boom in basement excavations. It captures what rising house prices are doing to London and to class formation. In the TV programme this rise in house prices is represented by a graphic that shows time passing alongside house prices ticking upwards. It is a reminder that the street is shifting ground. The capital in the bricks and beneath the characters feet is rising.

When we were choosing our neighbourhoods for the study, our French colleagues were utterly bemused by the house prices in the areas we were suggesting were middle class. How could it be ‘middle class’ if some of the houses cost a million pounds? Surely this was upper class? This is partly to do with differences in what being middle class means in the two countries. In France, to be ‘ classe moyenne’ is to be in a narrower band between the working class and the dominant class (of lawyers, business people) whereas in the UK it is anything between working class and the landed gentry. But it is also about the bizarre and distorting world of London property prices.

Let us take an example. There were teachers in every neighbourhood we studied, according to an occupation-based model of class they were of roughly the same class. However, if you were a teacher who bought a house in Balham in the 1980s you are positioned very differently financially to a younger teacher struggling to afford the rent in an equivalent neighbourhood now[1]. As well as this generational difference within the middle classes, the prohibitive prices in the area of Balham that we studied meant that the only people who could afford to move in were those working in the finance sector and the rich. We heard distinctions being made among existing middle class residents (such as teachers) who worked in other sectors about the incoming ‘city people’. One resident referred to her more affluent neighbours as occupying ‘a parallel world where everything is private.’

Housing wealth, or the lack of it, structures middle class experience in London. As John Lanchester points out in the prologue, having a house in a street like Pepys Road is like being in ‘a casino in which you are guaranteed to be a winner’. To be excluded from property ownership is to be pushed into the precarious and expensive world of private rental. To point this out is not just to bemoan the fate of the ‘squeezed middle’. Shifts in the middle also have an impact on the next people down the housing ladder, increasing the pressure in the private rental market. Meanwhile, the concentration of sameness (of profession, age, class background) among those who were ‘in’ in the gentrified area of our study seemed to produce a highly-pressurised and competitive environment. While the characters of Roger and Arabella (played by Toby Jones and Rachel Sterling) are more extreme than the people we interviewed, we did find a narrowly defined perception of success that people judged themselves and their families against.

I followed Twitter commentary as Capital aired last night and there were more Tweets about the unlikelihood of leaves being on the trees at Christmas than about house prices. However, the series taps into pertinent questions about class, co-existence and, of course, capital that continue to impact on everyday life in London and are never far from the surface.

[1] Michaela Benson and I have explored this further in ‘Making middle class identities on shifting grounds? Housing, capitals and assets’ at ‘A Tale of Two Cities? Class and Space in Paris and London’ Goldsmiths (2014).


New Urban Multicultures: Conviviality and Racism Conference

I’m very pleased to be organising this conference with Anamik Saha marking the 20th anniversary of ‘New Ethnicities and Urban Cultures‘. Here is the Call for Papers.

Goldsmiths, University of London

Tuesday 17th May 2016

The publication of ‘New Ethnicities and Urban Cultures: Racisms and Multiculture in Young Lives’ by Les Back marked a turn in the sociology of race and racism in bringing together Stuart Hall’s concept of ‘new ethnicities’ with a commitment to empirically grounded ethnographic research. This conference celebrates 20 years since the publication of this influential book and examines the present and the future of the study of urban multiculture.

Re-engaging with this book and its themes of the co-presence of racism and the possibilities of multiculture is timely and urgent. This approach simultaneously challenges both simplistic and ideological state and media discourses on the failure of multiculturalism and over-celebratory accounts of cultural diversity that are inattentive to manifestations of power and racism. It can help us to uncover hidden (and not so hidden) forms of living with difference, the ambivalences of what Hall calls ‘multicultural drift’ and emergent forms of culture. The experience of urban multiculture is not always convivial or fraught; instead it is much more complex, rich, contradictory and multi-layered than these official discourses allow for.

The conference seeks to bring together researchers interested in contemporary multiculture who are working in the tradition of interdisciplinary modes that take culture seriously while being attuned to how social dynamics are tied to structures of power. We are interested in papers from scholars at different stages in a variety of disciplines and would particularly like to encourage submissions from PhD and Early Career Researchers.

Themes of papers could include:

Youth and the city

Emerging music cultures

Hierarchies of belonging within multiculture

Ethnography and innovative methods

New black feminisms

Experiences of refugees and asylum seekers

Race and racism

New urban ethnicities

Generational change, racism and multiculture

Policing borders

Queer identities

Colonial and post-colonial migration

Intersections of power, culture and exclusion

Conviviality in urban encounters

Gentrification, displacement and urban dynamics

Race and youth culture

Race in education

Senses and the city

Austerity and poverty

Theories of cosmopolitanism, citizenship and postcoloniality

Critical approaches to multicultural policy, cohesion and integration

Race, cultural industries and cultural production

Media representations of urban multiculture

Policing race

New formations of migration

Aesthetic responses to urban multiculture

Institutional power and young lives

Abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent to and by 30th January 2016. Confirmed keynote speakers are Professor Paul Gilroy and Professor Les Back.

Attendance is free but registration is required (opens February 2016).

Indie Music’s Women Problem and Retrospective Sexism

I really enjoyed the first and second episodes of ‘Music For Misfits’, a recent BBC documentary tracing the story of indie music. It started with the labels and the cities and scenes they sprang from, Postcard Records in Glasgow, Two Tone in Coventry. In doing this it took ‘indie’ in the sense of independence rather than music style, which complicates the image of indie as white boys with guitars. But something went wrong with the third episode as the story moved into the nineties. While cheering and pointing as friends and people I knew flashed up on the screen, (Bob and Pete from St Etienne looking like babies, ah!). I started to realise that women were almost entirely absent. The only woman talking on screen for the first 55 minutes of the hour-long show was journalist Sian Pattenden. One lone woman’s voice among countless men covering nearly 25 years of indie music history.

It wasn’t just the lack of voices but the choice of stories that were included. No mention was made of the Riot Grrrl movement. Including the story of Riot Grrrl would have easily linked up with the previous programme’s section on fanzines and C86. Riot Grrrl also complicates the idea that British indie was in a stand off with US music. Rather in this scene bodies, music and fanzines travelled across the Atlantic and influenced each other. Also, while in indie music ‘white is the norm’ as Sarah Sahim recently argued, the Riot Grrrl moment in the UK also included bands lead by people of colour such as The Voodoo Queens and Cornershop (who had a number one on the independent Wiija in 1997).

Some major players were also missing. You have to go some lengths to tell the story of Britpop and not mention Elastica, but that’s what happened in the programme. There was a very short clip of them that flashed by. Or Sleeper. They were huge. Or PJ Harvey. Or Lush. Or Echobelly. Or Shampoo.

While Britpop turned into a boring blokefest, what writer Rhian E Jones calls a cultural Clampdown, there were other stories and currents in indie. Lad rock may have won out but it was depressing to see the erasure of women’s voices and stories in this programme.

As a young woman in a band I was patronised by sound men, literally kicked by roadies who saw us sitting down in a corridor and assumed we were groupies when we were locked out of our dressing room at Brixton Academy (The Ramones’ roadies. Joey Ramone came and apologised afterwards. He was a sweetheart). I was laughed at for being ugly in the music press. The NME said they would put our band, Kenickie, (three eighteen year old women and one guy) on the cover if we got naked and painted ourselves gold (‘in a ‘homage’ to The Slits and Manic Street Preachers’). We declined and they didn’t put us on the cover that week. My band was famous for between song chat and response to the audience (mainly from Lauren and Marie who remain two of the funniest cleverest people I have ever met). But this stage act was honed partly in response to getting shouted out to ‘get our tits out’ at gigs. Great things happened too and being in this band changed my life forever. But sexism was everyday and in your face.

I am chronicling these instances because it occurred to me after watching this documentary that as a woman in music you get the day to day sexism at the time and then afterwards you get the retrospective sexism as your stories get cut out. This isn’t about my particular band not being included – we were a very small piece of all of this. But I know women were there because I was there and I saw it and their stories matter too.

End of Project Findings ‘Go Home’: Mapping the unfolding controversy of Home Office immigration campaigns

Here is the end of project report for our “Mapping Immigration Controversies’ project. This was an 18 month research project exploring the impacts on local communities and national debate of current publicity campaigns about migration by the UK Home Office, conducted by eight investigators across the UK.

There is loads more to read from the project at and on Twitter at

Book launches

I’m doing a couple of launch events in London next month to celebrate my book coming out.

The first event is at The Star of King’s on the 14th October 6pm-9pm and will feature short talks by Professor Les Back (Goldsmiths), Shelagh O’Connor (Director, New Horizon Youth Centre) and I. There will also be records.

The second event is a joint launch with Susanne Wessendorf for her book ‘Commonplace Diversities‘ hosted by Suzanne Hall, (author of the brilliant book ‘City, Street, Citizen‘) at LSE Cities on the 22nd October 6.30-8pm.

No booking is required for either of these, just come along.

How young homeless people experience London and the homeless system

This blog was originally posted on the LSE Policy and Politics Blog (1/9/15)

A group of young homeless people sit around a large map of London. Gradually, they start to write on it with felt tip pens. They mark hostels, bus routes, friends’ flats, ‘no-go’ areas, parks, football grounds. This exercise was part of an ethnographic research project that took place in a London day centre between 2007-2010 (complemented by further interviews with staff in 2014) that forms the basis for my new book,Young Homeless People and Urban Space: Fixed in Mobility.

The book provides an examination of how homeless spaces and the city are lived, perpetuated, and experienced by young people in London. It is about what happens to young homeless people once they are homeless, and how they navigate both the city and the homeless system.

High levels of homelessness in London are longstanding; for example, in 1968 London contained about 6 per cent of the population of England and Wales and 37 per cent of these country’s registered homeless people (Greve et al. 1971). While speaking of ‘homelessness in London’ might conjure images of the cardboard cities of the 1980s, rough sleeping, though still part of the landscape of homelessness in London (and on the rise), is not the whole story. This book moves beyond a focus on street homeless people in order to reveal a more complex set of geographies and experiences.

My study found experiences of homelessness varying from the young Somali woman who conceals her homelessness from friends and family, to the young man trying to escape street life in east London and continue his college course while sofa surfing, to the young man of Irish parentage recently released from a young offenders institution struggling to rebuild his life while living in a hostel. While these young people have very different lives, they are all negotiating homelessness in London. The day centre is a place where these stories intersect and where advice and advocacy is provided. However, place of origin and migration status have impacts on what can be accessed and by whom within the homeless and welfare systems.

Access to the welfare state is key to the ordering of homeless experience in the city. Young homeless people are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the social security safety net and the hostel system, depending on whether they have ‘recourse to public funds’. To be ‘in’ comes with constraints and expectations, but to be ‘out’ is to be made dependent on a network of soup kitchens and cold weather shelters that are not linked to the receipt of benefits and cannot provide stable accommodation. Even for those who are ‘in’, the constraints are tightening. In the book I argue that the increasingly localised provision, as enshrined in the local connection policy[1], of homeless services is out of step with the complex and mobile lives of young homeless people. This trend of localisation has since further intensified. Recent interviews with staff from 2014 pointed to the local connection policy being extended, for example, to mental health services.

There has also been a gradual reshaping of what homeless people are expected to do in hostels and day centres. This is compounded by organisations coming under increasing pressure to deliver ‘hard outcomes’ to funders. Housing is recast as no longer a right but as something to be worked on. Homeless people must bid for social housing rather than wait on a housing list. They must participate in training and work on their CVs. This is an attitude that is in part reproduced by young homeless people themselves, particularly in their accounts of how they have fared in the hostel system.

However, this is not the full story. Homeless spaces like the day centre have not merely been made in the image of neoliberalism. Shifting funding and policy objectives impact on homeless services but such measures are interpreted and mediated by staff. The day centre is also negotiated, and to some degree co-opted, by the young people who use it. It has become a place of activity and of improvement, but for many of the young people who were part of this study it is returned to over and over and represents stability.

From here, the book follows young people’s accounts of moving through and coping with public space in London. Previous research has emphasised the difficulty for young people in claiming and occupying public space. This problem is multiplied for the young homeless person, who has even fewer options of place to go and is more likely to come under surveillance from the police. In addition, for many young homeless men, peer surveillance and territoriality makes moving between areas of London difficult and dangerous. They find themselves unable to return to their own area but also constrained in where they can safely go in London.

I argue that young homeless people are fixed in mobility, kept in a perpetual state of being on the move. Lingering in public space is dangerous and trips between the hostel, day centre and jobcentre are necessary in order to get food and shelter. Being fixed in mobility also refers to being fixed in the present. It is difficult for young homeless people to ‘move on’ into education or employment while they are in this situation. Young homeless people have dreams and aspirations. These are not grandiose, but are often just tantalisingly out of reach. Being a plumber, a youth worker, working in a kitchen. Young homeless people talked about pursuing their futures ‘when my housing’s sorted’. Ultimately, until there are options for more affordable housing in London, for many the moment of ‘when my housing’s sorted’ will continue to hover in the middle distance.

During the main period of research (2007-10), media reports of the recession were affecting the expectations of young homeless people about their chances in the labour market but the coalition government and their roll out of austerity measures was yet to come. Since then, entitlement to benefits has become even more precarious. Young homeless people are being heavily hit by benefit sanctions. Research from Homeless Link found that although 3 per cent of those claiming Jobseekers Allowance were sanctioned, this rose to a third among homeless people. One staff member I interviewed in 2014 told of a young man walking eight miles each way every day to from a North London suburb to central London just to be able to get food. These increasingly punitive welfare policies radically transform young people’s lives and the possibility of accessing the city, or a future.

[1] In 2003, local authorities became responsible for constructing ‘Single Homelessness Strategies’ to supply emergency accommodation for homeless people with a local connection. Building on the ‘local connection’ policy introduced in the 1977 Housing Act, this development made local authorities responsible for awarding funds through the ‘Supporting People’ fund to (competing) hostels, specifically to provide accommodation for homeless people from their own borough. Consequently, hostels started to safeguard space for, and prioritise, those with a ‘local connection’.