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Investigating youth homelessness: A journey for two reporters

Investigating youth homelessness: A journey for two reporters

Picture of Rebecca Plevin

This winter, I collaborated on a reporting project exploring youth homelessness and education with Marcus Vega, a formerly homeless youth and reporter for The kNOw Youth Media. The series of stories, which were supported by a New America Media fellowship, are currently running on NAM's website.

Our collaboration represented the first time NAM had paired an ethnic media reporter with a youth reporter to work on an in-depth series of stories. From our first person pieces below, I think it's obvious that both Marcus and I learned a lot about each other, ourselves, journalism, and homelessness during this unprecedented reporting journey.

Please read Marcus' first person piece here.

When I first started working on a series of stories on homeless youth with Marcus, a homeless youth and a reporter for The kNOw Youth Media, I was curious to see how our partnership would work out.

Any doubts I might have had were immediately erased when we conducted our first interview together at the Fresno Rescue Mission Emergency Family Shelter.

During the interview, I asked three homeless women to describe the importance of – and challenges involved with – getting their children to school, while residing at the homeless shelter. The women opened up to us, and happily answered all of our questions.

Then Marcus asked a few questions he had typed into his cell phone. They were questions I hadn't even thought to ask, since I had never been in their shoes. "Do you receive any county assistance?" he asked the women. And: "What do you plan to do to improve your situation?"

Marcus never told the women of his background, but it was almost like they could tell – not from his voice or his hooded sweatshirt, but from his knowledge, empathy and understanding of their situation. They spoke with him directly, in a less formal tone than they had used with me.

As we left the homeless shelter that morning, Marcus expressed pleasant surprise that the women seemed so comfortable sharing their story with us. I, myself, was excited by how well our partnership had worked that morning, and how Marcus could play an important role in keeping the series of stories relevant and honest.

After that first interview, Marcus and I worked together for about two months. Throughout that time, I tried to teach him journalism tips and techniques.

One afternoon, we sat in Vida en el Valle's conference room inside the Fresno Bee, and talked about how to effectively structure an interview. Then, with those tips in mind, Marcus led an interview with a 20-year-old formerly homeless youth who is now a student at California State University, Fresno. (Marcus' story about Daniella can be read here.)
And during our collaboration, Marcus taught me about the challenges and realities of being a homeless youth in Fresno.

One morning, Marcus and I went searching in downtown Fresno for homeless youth to interview. From his life experiences, he knew where to look. We visited the downtown library, and Fresno's Tower District, both places where homeless youth often hang out. We also visited the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission's Transitional Living Center, a shelter for homeless youth where Marcus himself had lived, and still had friendly contacts.

We didn't find youth to interview that day, but under his guidance, I learned to see Fresno from a new perspective.

Working closely with Marcus brought alive the issues of youth homelessness, and the challenges homeless youth face in accessing education.

One afternoon, Marcus was at the Fresno Bee to work on the project. On the way out, he asked if we could check out the job openings at the company. Marcus,  who is very close to earning his high school degree, was frustrated to realize that even manual labor jobs in the Bee's warehouse required at least a high school diploma.

He is a good writer, and had even mentioned to me, on the way to one of our interviews, that he is interested in pursuing a career in journalism. But realizing that his opportunities would be restricted until he finished his studies underscored the focus of our stories: Education truly is a path out of poverty, but it can be so difficult for homeless youth to achieve.

This blog was originally posted on Vida en el Valle's community health blog, Harvesting Health.

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