By Mary Lacey, Project Assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
Editor’s Note: On the Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 edition of 60 Minutes on CBS, correspondent Anderson Cooper reported on homelessness in Seattle in a piece called “’The Rent Is Obscene Here’: The Issues Forcing People in Seattle Onto the Street*.” It was the culmination of several months of reporting by 60 Minutes producers, capped off by a visit by the veteran journalist himself. But how did the show handle this sensitive topic? Our project assistant Mary completed this review in winter 2020 as one of her last projects before graduating. The pandemic delayed our posting it.
*The piece is viewable at the link above for those with a CBS All Access account. CBS, we wish you’d make it available to all.
Cities like Seattle have a growing concern as they face increasing housing costs. As Seattle continues to fight homelessness by building affordable housing, providing emergency services, and setting up a regional authority, national audiences look to us to learn how we are dealing with housing insecurity.
A Dec. 1 60 Minutes segment, hosted by Anderson Cooper, looked at Seattle’s homeless population, focusing on those who are unsheltered – living outside in situations such as in a tent or in a car, rather than in a shelter. The 15-minute segment highlights three different stories of unsheltered homelessness in this city known for economic growth and tremendous wealth: Postal worker Emilee; the parents of a young child, Josiah and Tricia; and Jeff, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
At the beginning of the piece, I was impressed with Cooper’s ability to define sheltered versus unsheltered homelessness, which can be confusing. Despite this strong start, the segment’s weaknesses quickly became clear.
I began to feel uncomfortable about the portrayal of peoples’ drug use and the negative stereotypes associated with them which was shown throughout the piece. Unfortunately, our perceptions around those who use drugs can affect policy decisions that exclude those needing housing. This ideology perpetuates negative “undeserving poor” narratives of those experiencing homelessness. Judgmental media depictions of our homeless neighbors can further spread these negative images, especially toward those who use substances. Continue reading