Making the homeless count? Enumerating rough sleepers and the distortion of homelessness

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Paul Cloke School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

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Paul Milbourne Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, UK

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Rebekah Widdowfield Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, UK

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English

This article traces the power of numbers in discourses relating to homelessness in Britain. It argues that enumeration has played a formative role in the recording of homelessness as a ‘problem’, and in the public policy response to homelessness in specific locations. In particular,the use of rough sleeper counts as popular defining representations of the problem of, and response to, homelessness is analysed in terms of their wider pivotal significance in political and policy discourses relating to homeless people. The article concludes that how rough sleeper counts are undertaken has clear distorting consequences for the identification and understanding of to what extent, where, and among whom homelessness represents a pressing social issue. Discursive valorisation of enumeration needs to be interconnected critically with other more qualitative forms of knowledge drawing on the experience of housing officers, local agency workers and others dealing with localised homelessness on a day-to-day basis.

Paul Cloke School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

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Paul Milbourne Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, UK

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Rebekah Widdowfield Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, UK

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