Thursday, June 25, 2009

Behind the Homeless Students Story

After the publication of a story last week about the worrisome increase in the number of homeless students now struggling to get an education in Monterey County, we learned that the woman featured in the account has had several encounters with law enforcement. The homeless woman has three children. They were living in a hotel room until recently while the kids were trying to stay in school with the help of a program designed specifically for homeless children.

According to court records, the mother has been convicted (twice) of domestic violence and for several other misdemeanor charges. This came to our attention after an attorney for her former landlord called to say the mother's account of why she is now homeless is in dispute.

Had we known now what we did then, we might have approached the story differently. On the other hand, the story was about homeless students — and representatives from the school district referred us to the woman when we asked for a good example of families who are trying to make do in these tough times. The fact that the woman has a police record does not diminish the fact that her children are homeless.

Some people are homeless because of the circumstances they confront; others are homeless because of the unfortunate choices they've made. When children are involved, it shouldn't really matter how it happened.

"The main point is that kids who are . . . living in the streets, we need to put them in schools," said Carlos Diaz, the homeless liaison for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

1 comment:

  1. This illustrates why it is so important for reporters to verify what people tell them and not just repeat what they say.

    I remember a similar story in the Coast Weekly in the mid 1990s, also about homeless people. One person prominently featured was someone I knew. She told the Weekly that she "fell on hard times" implying she had been laid off. In fact, she fell on hard times because she stole from her employer to buy drugs. She had a good stable job, but she blew it.

    It's not limited to homeless people. Reporters routinely repeat what politicians, bureaucrats, activists, and others say without checking other sources to confirm their validity. Look at how the news media jumped on the "Saddam has WMDs" bandwagon, even as UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq saying they couldn't find anything.

    The problem you describe in this one article is not an aberration. It is business as usual. As much as I appreciate the work that the Herald and other organizations do, I read everything with a critical eye.