The Puget Sound Business Journal received a public service award from the Society of Professional Journalists for its coverage of the economic costs of homelessness in the Seattle area.
Editor in chief Emily Parkhurst explained how the story came about:
It all started when the city of Seattle and King County released a report in 2016 outlining the reasons for the region’s growing homelessness problem, suggesting the issue was not really a lack of funding, but rather, how poorly this region’s service providers and governments were communicating. The report prompted a major shift in the way the region was to respond to the crisis. The Seattle mayor declared the homelessness situation a state of emergency.
That was when the Puget Sound Business Journal staff decided to answer the question: How much are we spending to address this crisis? We gathered data, public records and information from dozens of sources. We aimed to put a price tag on the overall cost, but also to break down how that money was being spent and talk to sources about ways it could be more efficiently allocated to fix the cause rather than treat the effects. It was a straightforward follow-the-money story, something we felt was important, especially as the city began considering a plan to tax businesses to raise more funds to address homelessness.
What we found is that the Seattle area spends more than $1 billion per year on everything from emergency room care to shelters to policing to the cost of lost business. Meanwhile, the crisis is getting worse. It’s not that we’re not spending enough, experts told us, it’s that we’re not spending it on the right things.
No one had ever calculated this for our region before. Our story became a talking point in board rooms, City Hall and among business executives, many of whom are frustrated by the city’s response to this growing problem.
The print versions of the paper sold out and we had to create a special digital version so organizations like the YWCA — which requested 20 copies for distribution to their board — could get what they needed.
Business leaders reached out to us after publication to say the story changed the way they think about the problem and potential solutions. We are very proud of the piece and thrilled the judges chose our work for this honor.