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Hurricanes, elections, water pollution and an affordable housing crisis.
In 2022, TCPalm's journalists focused on producing content that had impacts on the communities we serve in this everchanging social, political and economic environment.
Whether months-long investigations or editorials calling for change, these stories are just a few examples of how TCPalm's local journalism affected the Treasure Coast in 2022:
Homelessness on the rise amid housing crisis: Catie Wegman, Olivia McKelvey, Thomas Weber and Crystal Vander Weit chronicled pervasive homelessness as an unprecedented housing boom rapidly increased the cost of living on the Treasure Coast and how local governments and nonprofits planned to tackle the issue.
McKelvey questioned whose responsibility it is to permanently uproot residents from homelessness. After her story published, St. Lucie County leaders brought forth a slew of decisions to aid the homeless population and create more attainable housing.
Weber emphasized the lack of homeless shelters across the Treasure Coast after three men were found dead within a roughly four-month period. One was murdered, one died died of natural causes and one's cause of death was unclear. Weber's investigation found 83% of the region's homeless population was living unsheltered, leaving these residents more susceptible to harm and illness.
Wegman and Vander Weit spent weeks working with the Carmona family — a husband and wife with four young children who were living out of their minivan in March. The article highlighted the struggles their family faced every day. After the article published, the community helped raised over $20,000 for the family, who found housing. The Martin County Human Services administrator also contacted the family to provide help.
12 days of Christmas: Each holiday season, from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, TCPalm runs stories about 12 nonprofit groups that research, protect and restore the Indian River Lagoon, highlighting something each group needs to continue their mission of saving area waterways. Last year, through Max Chesnes' reporting, readers donated a record $65,560 to local environmental nonprofits, including the Indian Riverkeeper, Pelican Island Audubon Society and Manatee Observation and Education Center.
Beach access: When Martin County beachgoers found the unofficial pathway to Santa Lucea Beach filled with sand and closed to the public in February, Lina Ruiz reported on residents' fight to reopen it. Residents spent hours shoveling sand overnight to recreate the pathway out of defiance, and Ruiz reported that these rebels would not stop until it was reopened. About a week later, state and county officials agreed to maintain the beach access and keep it open.
Water pollution in Lake Okeechobee: In this exclusive investigation by Sydney Czyzon, Max Chesnes and Lindsey Leake, TCPalm was the first ever to use the state’s own data to prove the failure of Florida’s flagship program for reducing phosphorus pollution in Lake Okeechobee. The findings contradicted the Department of Environmental Protection, which constantly touted its success. TCPalm proved every single rainfall runoff drainage basin around Lake O with available data exceeded the state’s phosphorus limit over a five-year average — the worst by over 22 times. TCPalm was also the first ever to report that farmers have applied a staggering 2 million pounds of phosphorus to the land around the lake. Our reporting prompted:
Florida Rep. Toby Overdorf to “recommit” to restoring water quality and update the state’s 2001 Total Maximum Daily Load amounts of pollution that’s allowed
The Washington Post to mention our investigation in an editorial on toxic algae
Inhumane eviction: When columnist Laurence Reisman learned that about 70 families in a decades-old mobile home park at the Vero Beach airport could face eviction, he went there to learn about the diverse, lower-income neighborhood and its residents. Reisman and photojournalist Kaila Jones not only documented residents’ stories, but took the city and Federal Aviation Administration to task for treating residents inhumanely amid an affordable housing crisis. One day after Reisman’s second column appeared online, the city manager called to tell him the issue had been resolved — in part because of his column. Reisman later learned U.S. Rep. Bill Posey's office had sent his column to the subcommittee that oversees the FAA.
A second chance: Mauricio LaPlante and Crystal Vander Weit followed a Port Salerno resident's road to recovery after he spent over a decade in and out of jail in Martin and St. Lucie counties. They explored how the criminal justice system remains stacked against formerly incarcerated people. Marcus Christie has been actively working to get back on track, but faces barriers toward finding a stable job, income and housing because of his criminal record. Christie works multiple jobs so he can pay bills and child support for his five children, in addition to receiving support from Reverse the Door, a Martin County nonprofit that assists formerly incarcerated people and their families.
In the eye of the storm: TCPalm staff worked diligently to keep residents informed before, during and after two hurricanes made landfall in Florida this year. Hurricane Ian was a catastrophic Category 4 that hit the west coast on Sept. 28 and Hurricane Nicole was a Category 1 that made landfall in Indian River County Nov. 10.
Throughout both storms, TCPalm staff helped prepare residents before landfall, reporting on weather forecasts, school and government closures, and more. Our coverage during the storm included live, on-the-ground reporting, with staff members out in the elements documenting the effects first-hand — including storm surge, flooding, power outages, property damage, environmental effects and more. TCPalm produced live blogs for each county that reported major impacts as they occurred.
Mauricio LaPlante and Kaila Jones even went to the west coast to aid our sister newspaper in Fort Myers, The News-Press, reporting on families who had evacuated to the Hertz Arena and how the fishing industry on Pine Island was working to recover.
Our staff continued monitoring the effects both storms had statewide and on the Treasure Coast after landfall. These are just a few examples:
Election coverage: From race previews and Editorial Board recommendations to live results from the Supervisor of Elections offices and post-election analyses on the outcomes, no other news organization provided Treasure Coast readers with more comprehensive coverage on local primary and general elections than TCPalm.
The Treasure Coast, particularly St. Lucie County, drew statewide attention in the gubernatorial showdown. The Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, across from TCPalm's new downtown office, hosted a gubernatorial debate between Gov. Ron DeSantis and challenger Charlie Crist. Both candidates also made campaign stops: DeSantis drew thousands to Port St. Lucie for his "Don't Tread on Florida" tour and Crist visited a Fort Pierce restaurant the Monday before the election on his "Get Out The Vote" social and rally.
Voting rights: Voting in the midterm elections looked a lot different in 2022 than 2020. The Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis had championed a swath of election reform laws in the name of election security, while Democrats and civil rights groups condemned the changes as a form of voter suppression. In a four-part series, Lindsey Leake explored the impact of these changes — from reduced mail ballot drop-off opportunities to increased penalties for third-party voter registration organizations.
Catie Wegman is TCPalm's housing and real estate reporter. You can keep up with Catie on Twitter @Catie_Wegman, on Facebook @catiewegman1 and email her email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: TCPalm, Stuart News, Press Journal impactful journalism effected change