Best of Slow Journalism: The ‘Hidden Homeless’ campaign

The Hackney Gazette’s ‘Hidden Homeless’ campaign demonstrates why local newspapers can benefit from investing in Slow Journalism.

Originally run over five weeks last year, the ‘Hidden Homeless’ campaign featured a series of reports on the 2,700 families without a permanent home in Hackney, London. Led by investigative reporter Emma Youle, the Hackney Gazette’s campaign told the stories of families forced to reside indefinitely in the squalid conditions of ‘temporary’ accommodation due to the lack of social housing in the borough. Through her reporting Youle revealed that the local council pays £35 million in room bills without investing in the permanent housing stock that is so desperately needed.

Youle won the Paul Foot award for investigative and campaigning journalism in recognition for her work, which led to local politicians promising to devote more energy to the issue. However, after being frustrated that the politicians’ promises did not materialise, Youle and her colleagues relaunched the campaign last month.

“Since we first reported on the millions of pounds Hackney Council spends on temporary accommodation each year, the borough’s housing list has only grown,” explained the paper’s editor, Ramzy Alwakeel, at the relaunch. “The public purse has been hit by another year of austerity and new rules around borrowing to build council housing merely tinker at the edges of a crisis,” he said.

Since the relaunch of the Hidden Homeless campaign, Youle has been reporting with renewed vigour. She was originally inspired to report on the topic after covering a death in a homeless hostel in 2016, and in March she returned to the subject, highlighting the continued plight of the mentally and physically ill in Hackney. She revealed how one man died in his room after being denied chemotherapy due to his immigration status, while other Hackney residents told her that the living conditions in the temporary accommodation made them suicidal.

Front page from 20th September 1986

The paper’s commitment to the issue of homelessness goes back decades. It recently reprinted a front page from 20th September 1986, which warned that hotel bills for the homeless were costing Hackney Council more than £2 million – enough to build two new housing estates at the time.

With almost 200 local newspapers closing since 2005, it can be hard for publishers to find the resources to commit to investing in long-term reporting projects. The Hidden Homeless campaign shows how a Slow Journalism approach allows local publications to closely examine a story over an extended period, hold local authorities to account when their promises aren’t realised and truly serve their communities.

“Why are we reopening the campaign if so little has changed?” said Alwakeel at the relaunch. “Because, sometimes, the fact that something isn’t new is precisely what makes it news.”

 

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