Using Journalism to Expose Modern Homelessness

Mother Teresa once said, “ Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” The movies I watched growing up painted a portrait of childhood as a time of care-free innocence as youngsters are introduced to the world from the safety of a house with a white picket fence in a neighborhood with luscious lawns and romping golden retrievers—and for many this is the case. But it’s become all too easy, however, to forget about the young people across the country trapped in an inadequate education system, shuffled along an out-dated and overwhelmed social services institution, precariously dancing between poverty and homelessness, and forced to confront violence and exploitation that many wouldn’t believe existed in America.

The Casey Awards for Meritorious journalism honor reporters who have highlighted issues that heavily impact youth around the country; giving forgotten young people the acknowledgement for which we all yearn. Broken into several categories, winners ranged from local and national television programming to single and multiple print installments in magazines and newspapers. From the winners of the Casey Awards for Meritorious Journalism, a panel of judges selected a winner for the America’s Promise Journalism Awards in the categories of awareness and action.

Judging the America’s Promise Awards (based on the winners of the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism) provided a unique perspective on the challenges facing young people across the country. While some submissions highlighted issues that have yet to make their way to dinner table conversations, others provided an incredibly in-depth perspective on issues with which I was more familiar.

One of the most poignant themes to emerge among the submissions was the perspective different submissions provided on modern homelessness. Both of the America’s Promise Award winners, The Seattle Times and KCTV in Kansas City, destroyed the notion of homelessness as a phenomenon that affects drug-abusing panhandlers. Through gut-wrenching stories of families in their communities, both winners showed how easy it is for the working poor to slip into homelessness despite their efforts to find and hold jobs. Their despair is compounded by the economic recession, previous infractions with the law, and a nation that requires more and more education to gain meaningful employment. Even more disturbing, however, was how challenging everyday tasks such as school attendance are for families living hopelessly between poverty and homelessness. It is these challenges, unknown to many, that institutionalize poverty, making it harder and harder for individuals trying to break what seems like a hopeless cycle.

Each of the submissions detailed a similarly unique and equally troubling story of the challenges facing America’s youth—challenges that are often needlessly forgotten. It was incredibly difficult to choose just two winners, but being given the opportunity to do so was a privilege that both broadened by perspective and allowed me to play a unique role in honoring the journalists who are correcting a poverty much greater than hunger for American youth.