AP journalists used data to show that cities around the country were trying to deal with what residents considered the eyesore of growing homeless encampments with sweeps, even as the deeper issues causing the homeless crisis persisted.
The story began more than a year ago, when Portland-based reporter Rush decided to take a look at authorities’ increased efforts to break up growing homeless encampments in her city and other areas out West. Casey and Har of jumped in to help take the idea nationwide. With the help of Angeliki Kastanis of the data team, they filed FOIA requests to some 30 cities across the country to see if they had increased their sweeps of the increasingly visible encampments. The result was a deeply reported, and deeply human, all-formats story that showed that sweeps in many cities had skyrocketed. Photographers Craig Mitchelldyer and Jeff Chiu and video journalists Manuel Valdes and Thomas Peipert were part of the teams that visited encampments in four cities. Valdes used their footage to produce a compelling video about the sweeps and their impacts. Mary Sedor of the Top Stories Hub worked for months with the team as they conceived of the package and brought it to the wire. The story ran into many roadblocks. Many cities declined to answer the FOIAs. Ones that did often gave incomplete information. And the definition of an encampment sweep varied from city to city, making comparisons difficult. They managed to push for more information and use it to craft a narrative about efforts across the country to tackle the homeless problem by removing it from view. The story was widely used and the team also produced a Localize It guide.