About this project

Homelessness. It plagues every corner of the country, driving political debate from city halls to the White House as elected leaders try to figure out what to do about the half-million Americans living on our streets.

The Obama administration argued that criminalizing homelessness was unconstitutional and misguided. Five years later, the Trump administration is embracing it.

We wanted to take a nationwide snapshot of how homeless people are being treated in America, particularly those living outside, with nowhere to go.

To do that, we created an unprecedented collaboration among seven university journalism programs spanning the country. Led by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland, the consortium included the University of Oregon, Boston University, Stanford University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Florida and Arizona State University.

Photo credits (left to right): Joanne Smith, Will Hembree, Kamome Komiyama

Despite challenges posed by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the collaboration produced more than two dozen stories — national investigative pieces, a long-form narrative, explanatory stories, case studies, a podcast, photos, videos and graphics.

We targeted 54 metropolitan regions where median rent was more than 32% of median income, driving up homelessness. We collected and analyzed 311 complaints over the last decade, looking for patterns and trends. We surveyed local and state laws that were aimed at criminalizing homelessness. And using court data from across the country, we examined how those policies were playing out on the ground. 

The primary reporting and data analysis were conducted by nearly 50 graduate and undergraduate journalists spanning the campuses, supported by more than 15 data journalists. 

The work began in fall 2019 with an analysis of court cases, legal documents and data. It kicked into high gear when more reporters and visual journalists joined the team in January. They fanned out to meet and talk with people who made their homes in tents, cars and on the streets. They also spoke with city officials, advocates for the homeless, lawyers, police officers, judges, business leaders and experts on issues of housing and homelessness. Much of the work that appears in their stories, which were reported in eight states and more than 15 cities, reflects detailed in-person interviews.

Those ended in March, when the spread of the coronavirus shut down all travel and site visits. It also shut down all of the universities, prompting many students to move back home, scattering them across the country.

But that didn’t stop us. Using tools like Zoom, WebEx, Slack, Google Drive and Dropbox, the students continued reporting, acquiring and analyzing data, editing and sharing photos and video, and producing digital graphics and websites. Most importantly, they found ways to keep talking with each other and their editors to produce the project.

This website, built by University of Maryland 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.

Photo credits: Left: Maris Medina, photo by Susannah Outhier. Right: Lancelot Lin, photo by Susannah Outhier.


From the University of Maryland, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Reporting: Aneurin Canham-Clyne, Christine Condon, Clara De Freitas, Grace Dille, Bradley Dress, Bryan Gallion, Julia Lerner, Ryan Little, Elizabeth Loewenthal, Allison O’Reilly, Morgan Politzer, Elisa Posner, Vanessa Reis, Callie Tansill-Suddath, Brenda Wintrode, 

Data: Riin Aljas, Theresa Diffendal, Ryan Little, Nora O’Reilly, Luciana Perez Uribe, Maya Pottiger, Roxanne Ready

Social Media: Benjamin Gonzalez, Camryn DeLuca

Digital Design: Camila Velloso, Theresa Gebhart, Jenna Cohen, Emma Grazado, Sean McGoey

Graphics: Theresa Diffendal, Camila Velloso

Visuals: Sid Espinosa, Carly Haynes, Lancelot Lin, Maris Medina, Susannah Outhier

From the University of Oregon, School of Journalism and Communication

Reporting: Zack Demars, Gina Scalpone, Donny Morrison, Rachel McKinnon

Data Analysis: Lukas Hanson

From the University of Arkansas, School of Journalism and Strategic Communication

Reporting: Katy Seiter, Whitney King, Michael Adkison, Abbi Ross, Brooke Tomlin, Elena Ramirez, Matthew Moore, Mary Morgan Ellis

From Boston University, Department of Journalism

Reporting, Public Records Requests and Data Analysis: Nick McCool, Lillian Eden, Noemi Arellano-Summer, Mikayla Heiss, Sydney Hager, Ryoma Komiyama, Anran Xie, Ran Zhang, Emily LeClerc, Anoushka Dalmia, Miriam Fauzia

Photojournalist:  Sophie Park

From the University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications

Reporting: Katie Hyson, Edysmar Diaz-Cruz, Everitt Rosen, Karina Elwood, Stephanie Cornwell

Photojournalists: Chris Day, Sam Thomas

From Stanford University, Department of Communication

Reporting: Samuel Baucom, Seimi Chu, McArdle Hankin, Rachel Oh, Joseph Dworetzky, Irena Hwang, Vanessa Ochavillo, Matthew Vollrath

Data Analysis: Megan Calfas, Tylar Campbell, Astrid Casimire, Amy DiPierro, Irena Hwang, Max Lee, Salma Loum, Vanessa Ochavillo

From Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Reporting: Jonmaesha Beltran, Jamie Landers, Jorge Santos, Luis Torres

Additional research at Stanford University

Public Records Requests and Reporting: Cyrus Beschloss, Qian Chen, Matt DeButts, Nisa Khan, Rachel Oh, Jia Hui Tan

Public Records Requests: Amara Aarif, Ellie Bowen, Anna Goshua, Austin Maihen, Vikas Maturi, Cameron Scarlett, Michael Spencer, Aparna Verma

Additional research at the University of Maryland

Lawsuit Analysis: Shreeya Agarwal, David Akerman, Nicholas Albicocco,  Anne Archer, Jeffrey Barnes, Daniel Berger,  Isabel Cleary, Yakira Cohen, Lindsey Collins, Spencer Dobkin, Cameron Doney, Alexis Duda, Hannah Fields, Jason Fontelieu, Kaitlyn Francis, Theresa Gebhart, Brogan Gerhart, Alexandra Glover, Jordan Gold, Aleah Green, Hannah Greenberg, Dominic Gugliotta, Cameron Hasbrouck, Thomas Hindle, Kaliah Hobbs, Analeigh Hughes, Annabelle Janssens, Ryan Kamber, Jaclyn Kaufman, Alborz Lakeh, Amina Lampkin, Haemee Lee, Daniel Longest, Makea Luzader, Sean Mahoney, Max Marcilla, Garrett Mogge, Cailey Muraca, Jenna Pierson, Angela Roberts, Maristela Romero, Mia Salenetri, Megan Sayles, Jack Schemmel, Catherine Scott, Jamal Seaforth, Samantha Subin, Dominick Waldman, Morgan Weaver, Audrey Widodo, Jacqueline Zegler

Public Records Requests: Amanda Allen, Kira Barrett, Vivian Caesar, Rachel Clair, Suzanne Creedon, Kathleen Deblasis, Audrey Decker, Victoria Ebner, Reid Flumbaum, Tyler Golsen, Benjamin Gonzalez, Halle Grossett, Brendan Hartlove, Julianne Heberlein, John Hogan, April Howard, Owen Hynes, Joseph Ilardi, Hallie Kay, Abbigail Klein, Maya Koeppen, Shruti Kumar, Paige Leckie, Elizabeth Loewenthal, Jennifer Mandato, Alexandra Marquez, Sean Montiel, Elana Morris, Erika Muller, Sofia Parrela Castro, Vanessa Reis, Taylor Roar, Maryam Shahzad, Scott Shapiro, Melissa Signorini, Zachary Solon, Jacob Steinberg, Alexis Sugar, Maria Trovato, Isabelle Tyshing, Jalen Wade, Haoran Wu, Nicole Zibelman, Luciana Perez-Uribe, Logan Arneson, Kaitlyn Cupelli, Benjamin Curtis, Michael Cutler, Alexander Dacy, Camryn DeLuca, Taylor Dove, Casey Fair, Laura Franklin, Casey Gannon, Julia Gastwirth, Chloe Goldberg, Emma Grazado, Eric Harkleroad, Patrick Hauf, Sahana Jayaraman, Austin Kalt, Styliani Lappas, Connor Leff, Reese Levin, Kaitlyn Levinson, Clara Longo De Freitas, Carmen Molina Acosta, Ambika Narula, Charles Nyonga, Jared Ochacher, Samantha Payer, Elisa Posner, Morgan Pravato, Michael Purdie, Celia Richardson, Emily Riley, Kate Savinelli, Kimberly Seif, Jordan Swarm, Jaelyn Watson, Lillian Andemicael, Jonah Anderson, Aneeta Ashton, Jennifer Attanasio, Oyinkansola Awosika, Tori Bergel, Margot Biamon, Patrick Britt, Lila Bromberg, Rachel Bucchino, Malika Budd, Madison Burinsky, Travis Chase, Zamir Courtney, Dylan D’Andrea, Abigail Espiritu, Toluwalase Famuyide, Nolan Gelbard, Anna Hovey, Kaanita Iyer, Jesse Johnson, Henry Malone, Grace Mottley, Benjamin Palmer, Fatemeh Paryavi, Khloe Quill, Borja Rebaza, Lillian Reese, Jamal Seaforth, Jeremy Tombs, Alexander Tuerk, Andrea Wenck

Data Requests: Aneurin Canham-Clyne, Sydney Clark, Victoria Daniels, Renee Foose, Madison Hunt, Darryl Kinsey, Ryan McFadden, Sean McGoey, Laina Miller, Jacob Rousseau, Michelle Siegel, Callan Tansill-Suddath, Grace Todd, Philip Van Slooten, Brenda Wintrode, Mohan Xu, Charlotte Dulany

Faculty and Staff Advisers

University of Maryland: Howard Center Data Editor Sean Mussenden and Director Kathy Best; Merrill College faculty members Deborah Nelson, Adam Marton, Alexander Pyles, Bethany Swain, Sandra Banisky and LaMonte Summers; Merrill College Communications Manager Josh Land.

University of Oregon: Brent Walth, assistant professor of journalism, and Nicole Dahmen, associate professor of journalism. They are co-directors of The Catalyst Journalism Project.

University of Arkansas: Rob Wells, assistant professor and graduate coordinator.

Boston University: Maggie Mulvihill, associate professor of computational journalism, and Greg Marinovich, photojournalist and master lecturer in journalism.

University of Florida: Moni Basu, the Michael and Linda Connelly lecturer in narrative nonfiction, and Richard Shaw, photojournalist and adjunct professor.

Stanford University: Cheryl Phillips, Hearst Professional in Residence and director of Big Local news, and R.B. Brenner, lecturer.

Arizona State University: Christina Leonard, professor of practice and executive editor of Cronkite News, and Venita Hawthorne James, professor of practice and Phoenix bureau chief for Cronkite News.