US street papers collaborate with non-profit Law@theMargins on series centring voices from the homeless community

Four US street papers have collaborated with non-profit media organisation Law@theMargins on a series exploring how homelessness is being addressed at a local level across the country, with the voices of those with lived experience at the centre.

‘The Right to a Home’ series – led by Community Based News Room (CBNR), a project of Law@theMargins covering subjects underrepresented in the mainstream media and giving voice to marginalised individuals – features stories written and reported by members of the homeless community that work with INSP members Street Sense (Washington D.C.), Street Spirit (Berkeley, California), StreetWise (Chicago) and The Contributor (Nashville).

Each of the eight stories produced links people with experience of homelessness to professional reporters and editors, facilitating on-the-ground reporting on issues impacting homeless people in America, from food insecurity to criminalisation.

In total, 16 individuals worked to bring the project to life, backed by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network.

Chaumtoli Huq, Law@theMargins founder and CBNR publisher, said: “We are excited to showcase our ‘The Right to a Home’ series with street papers, which have a long tradition of providing a space for those unhoused to tell their stories with dignity.

“Our unique collaborative journalism model helps people with lived experiences of injustice report on solutions. We don’t tell their stories, but provide the structure and support so that they can report on the issues that impact them directly.”

Eric Ortiz, CBNR’s executive editor, who has been working with INSP to bring the stories produced with these four street papers to the INSP News Service, benefiting the worldwide street paper network, added: “Homelessness has reached critical levels. Our project stands up for the rights and well-being of the less fortunate and is important and urgent work. CBNR will continue to support the homeless community.

“Through rigorous reporting about how people are responding to homeless issues, we can help balance the news on the subject, strengthen engagement, and build trust that has eroded between the housed and unhoused community. It is a powerful form of journalism that can shift the narrative on how we view homelessness.”

A makeshift tent in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, D.C., at 3rd and M Street NE. [Credit: Joseph Young]

Just as many street papers in the US, and further afield, work to bring stories about homelessness and poverty to their pages from those who have been directly affected by the issues, whether through vendor profiles, intricate feature reporting, interviews with policy makers or more artistic means, ‘The Right to a Home’ series has created an environment where there voices can be heard.

Vicky Batcher, a street reporter for The Contributor, who was homeless for seven years and co-wrote one of the stories in the series, said: “I found the collaboration with other journalists to be exciting. Working on articles about the challenges facing homeless people was not only a learning experience, but one of dedication in educating the public.”

Street Sense editor Eric Falquero added: “As with all community news, we’re stronger and more effective when we work collaboratively. My hope is that more people learn about the 40-plus news outlets and economic empowerment programs, like the four of us, in cities across the US, and new readers see what may work to prevent and end homelessness in their community. And having been challenged to grow in our use of solutions journalism will inform our work well beyond this project.”

The series goes beyond the eight articles produced. Next year, Law@theMargins will host public events on homelessness in each of the street paper partner cities.

The collaboration is just one example of the fruits of INSP’s regional development work across different parts of its network and the world encouraging greater collaboration between street paper members that are geographically close, including the launch of INSP North America.

Learn more about the series here.

For INSP members, all eight stories from ‘The Right to a Home’ will be featured on the INSP News Service for republication when available.