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Modes of Attentiveness: Reading for Difference in Geographies of Homelessness

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Abstract

Hegemonic accounts of urban homelessness, focusing on attempts to restrict homeless people's presence in public space, stress the punitive nature of current homelessness policy. In contrast, in this paper we explore the “messy middle ground” of the UK homeless services system. Examining Stacey Murphy's (2009) (Antipode 41(2):305–325) arguments regarding a shift to a “post-revanchist” era in San Francisco, we chart the apparent similarities between developments in San Francisco and changes to the management of street homelessness bought in to effect by the New Labour government in the UK, and assess the extent to which such developments might be read as holding in tension more obviously punitive and supportive trends usually viewed as necessarily oppositional. In the final part of the paper we present a re-reading of recent changes to the management of street homelessness in the UK through a postsecular lens. We suggest that this lens provides the possibility for a much more optimistic reading of homeless services and of the grammars of homelessness and urban (in)justice more broadly, and make the case for an alternative mode of academic attentiveness open to sometimes subtle and smaller-scale yet nonetheless important examples of different ways of understanding and doing.

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