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Student Journalists’ Project Highlights Criminalization of Homelessness

By Maryland Today Staff

From laws banning panhandling to bulldozers and firehoses clearing encampments, a new project from University of Maryland student journalists and partners nationwide is showing how homelessness is frequently criminalized and leads to a cycle of arrests and fines that make emerging from crisis almost impossible.

The first portion of the project, called “Nowhere To Go,” was published today by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Capital News Service and the Associated Press. More stories—the result of a collaboration between UMD’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and the University of Oregon, Boston University, Stanford University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Florida and Arizona State University—will be released in the coming weeks.

The project analyzes laws in more than 50 of the country’s least affordable areas and almost none had enough shelters and housing but almost all had laws that penalized homeless people for trying to meet some of life’s basic necessities, such as sitting, sleeping, relieving themselves and acquiring money. Supporting affordable housing and health programs, the project says, have taken a back seat to relying on law enforcement.

Nearly 50 graduate and undergraduate journalists started reporting and data analysis last fall, with additional support by more than 15 data journalists. Work spanned eight states and more than 15 cities, producing more than two dozen stories.

The website, built by UMD digital design students, collects the work of all the consortium members. Support for the collaboration came from the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Park Foundation.

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