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Inside The Markup

The Markup Wins Sigma Award

The global contest recognizes excellence in data reporting

Digital graphic of two screenshots of stories from the L.A. Homelessness series, layered on top of each other; to the right is the text "2024 Winner L.A. Homelessness” with the Sigma Awards logo underneath it
The Markup

The Markup’s investigation into racial disparities in Los Angeles’s intake system for unhoused people has won a 2024 Sigma Award, which celebrates the best data journalism from around the world. 

Judges said the investigation “uses data to expose racial disparities and systematic issues that were previously largely supported by anecdotal evidence. The extensive methodology acts as a guide that other journalists can follow to do similar investigations in their own communities. The Markup did outstanding work in the public interest.”

L.A.’s Scoring System for Subsidized Housing Gives Black and Latino People Experiencing Homelessness Lower Priority Scores,” also published by the Los Angeles Times, confirmed what advocates for the unhoused had long suspected: For years, the scoring system for allocating housing on the basis of vulnerability rated unhoused Black people as less vulnerable than White people and, as a result, deprioritized their candidacy for permanent housing. 

The Markup was the first news organization to obtain breakdowns of more than 130,000 “vulnerability” scores assigned to unhoused people in L.A., going back to 2016. Our data analysis found a persistent discrepancy in scores between Black and White people experiencing homelessness.

In addition to a detailed methodology, we published a story recipe for journalists, on how to investigate homeless vulnerability scoring in their city. 

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Shortly after our investigation, Los Angeles City Council Member Nithya Raman, who chairs the Housing and Homelessness committee, introduced a motion citing the article and calling on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to come up with a plan to reform its intake system. The legislation, approved unanimously, called specifically for greater fairness in the “vulnerability” scoring system that The Markup analyzed.

Raman told The Markup that LAHSA has taken some steps in the past year to improve how it allocates housing. Among other changes, she said, the agency has started to prioritize some groups, including those already involved in housing programs and those who already have the documents required to move into a building, like an ID and social security number. 

The agency has also de-emphasized the score’s importance in placing people for permanent housing. People applying for housing are scored on a 17-point scale. Previously, the people with the highest scores were given the highest priority, but now any person who scores an eight or above can be prioritized, depending on the other factors being considered.

Read more about how L.A. is changing how it scores the “vulnerability” of unhoused people.

Congratulations to the entire team for recognition of their hard work. Congratulations too, to all of this year’s Sigma Award honorees.

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