Investigative Reports

InvestigateWest's mission is to do in-depth, investigative reports on important topics in the West, especially the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on the environment, health and social justice.

Homeless Young Adults Need Specialized Job Training


InvestigateWest interns Emily Holt and Cassandra Little, both 2010 graduates of Seattle University, spent three months working on a project about family homelessness as part of Seattle University's Journalism Fellowship on Family Homelessness. Seattle University received funding for the fellowship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. InvestigateWest's full project on family homelessness will be published this fall.

InvestigateWest reporter Carol Smith worked closely with Holt and Little as they developed sources. Smith, who has years of experience reporting on complex social issues, mentored the Seattle University fellows as they explored different aspects of homelessness. Their work took each of them into the field where they spent hours observing and interviewing subjects for their stories. Here's a look at some of their work:

Young adults make up a fourth of the homeless population in Washington, yet very minimal research has been conducted on the job training needs of this population.

With unemployment high, and unemployment for young adults at a record 19 percent, jobs are scarce. For young adults without family resources and high school or college degrees, many of the hurdles for finding jobs are even higher.

Housing is an especially tough barrier in the Seattle metro area.

According to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in King County is $917 per month. To reasonably afford a one-bedroom apartment in King County, a person has to make about $19 per hour.

But young adults are unlikely to qualify for a $19 per hour jobs without specialized job training programs to help prepare them for the workforce.

Homeless young adults, for example, may have not have learned basic life skills, such as budgeting and conflict resolution that would be helpful on the job. Many homeless young adults are often also in need of mental health services.

The Whistleblower Speaks

By Carol Smith


Read the whole package here.

Luci Power was among the first pharmacists in the United States to pressure her employer to take warnings about chemo handling coming out of Europe in the early 1980s seriously.

The alarm was triggered by a letter from Finnish researchers published in Lancet in 1979. That study found evidence of exposure in nurses preparing and administering chemo. Their urine contained higher amounts of chemo drugs than control groups.

“That was a landmark,” said Power.

The Australians had already moved to publish some English-language guidelines. Power learned of them through a friend and colleague. But when she asked for more protective equipment for her staff at the University of California, San Francisco, no one took her seriously, she said. She ended up creating make-shift “personal protective equipment” out of welder’s masks and other scavenged pieces.

Then one day, a team from Cal-OSHA happened to be in the hospital monitoring an asbestos abatement project in a room adjacent to where Power and her staff were mixing chemo. The team used her room as a base, so they could observe the asbestos removal from a safe distance.

When they saw the pharmacy staff working behind bright red welders’ face shields, they were horrified, she said. They started asking questions.

Power told them what she knew of the potential dangers of handling chemo, and her difficulties securing equipment to protect workers from getting it on their skin or in their lungs.

Campus sexual assault: Does 'honor code' system squelch justice at Oregon school?


Three young women tell similar stories of being discouraged from calling police after reporting sexual assault to Reed College authorities, and of a campus investigatory process so intensely secretive one student was unsure she could even talk to her parents about it. The students’ allegations were not vetted by trained investigators or faculty, but by a student board without expertise in sexual assault.

Former Reed administrator Lisa Moore, a licensed social worker, confirms she took one of the students to the health center when she came to her crying and saying she had been raped by a former boyfriend in January of 2009, but did not know the student was later turned away without an appointment. Moore has since left Reed and now works at Boston University, in part because of her inability to change the Reed system. None of the recommendations of a sexual assault task force she assembled has been implemented, she said.

Two outside experts in how colleges handle sexual assaults criticized the system used by 1,400-student Reed, a highly secretive process based on a student Honor Code and enforced by a student Judicial Board, in which students act as a fact-finding committee and participants are barred from discussing their cases with anyone except a designated advocate, a procedural aide and medical professionals.

Sexual Assault on College Campuses: A Culture of Indifference

Many college women say their experiences after being sexually assaulted -- often in date rape situations -- illustrate a culture of indifference and denial that results in one in five young women being assaulted during their college years. Unclear and conflicted internal disciplinary systems can compound their suffering, according to this series by InvestigateWest journalists Carol Smith and Lee van der Voo and edited by Rita Hibbard.

Stephanie S. reported being sexually assaulted in a University of Washington dorm room in 2001.
Credit: Dan DeLong/Special to InvestigateWest

Athletic club weekend weekend turns into nightmare for college freshman
But her ordeal brings change to state system

Emily Lorenzen turned to college administrators for help after she was hazed into drinking too much alcohol and woke up naked in bed next to a persistent upperclassman whose advances she had spurned. She found a lack of concern and a desire to protect the university, and says the college investigation and disciplinary process victimized her again. But the experience spurred her father, then head of the board of higher education in the state of Oregon, to begin making changes in that state that could have long-ranging impact for young victims like Emily in the future.

Read More

Study sees parking lots dust as cancer risk


Chemicals in a cancer-causing substance used to seal pavement, parking lots and driveways across the U.S. are showing up at alarming levels in dust in American homes, prompting concerns about the potential health effects of long-term exposure, a new study shows.

The substance is coal tar sealant, a waste product of steel manufacturing that is used to protect pavement and asphalt against cracking and water damage, and to impart a nice dark sheen. It is applied most heavily east of the Rockies but is used in all 50 states.