On Rev. Rick Cole’s 14 days and nights living homeless on Sacramento’s streets

Jeff vonKaenel

Without shaving or showering, Capital Christian Center's Rev. Rick Cole came straight from Cesar Chavez Plaza park, where he had been living for two weeks to raise awareness and money, to preach at his mega-church. The church was packed on a Saturday night to welcome the reverend back.

The reverend who showed up on Saturday was different than the one who’d left 14 days and 14 nights earlier. He had more facial hair, he smelled, and he had a deeper understanding of God’s mercy.

Facing a shortage of funds for the Winter Sanctuary Program, which buses homeless men and women to Sacramento-area churches and temples for food and shelter during the cold and rainy winter months, Cole impulsively decided to experience living without a home and without knowing where his next meal would come from. Knowing that he has a public presence and a large congregation that cares for him, he hoped that the publicity would raise money. He wanted to raise at least $100,000. The Winter Sanctuary Program needed $300,000. More than $144,000 has been raised to date by his challenge, and I’m sure more will come in.

But what started off as a way to raise money soon became a way to change a minister. This change was so profound that this usually articulate man, comfortable with speaking before large groups, was clearly overwhelmed. He was still processing his experience. He broke down several times during his remarks.

He reflected on how many times he had walked through Cesar Chavez Plaza with a latte headed for an important meeting at City Hall. Perhaps it was a meeting to discuss “the homeless problem.” And, as he walked through the park, he did not even see the men and women he was trying to help. The people in the park who are struggling. Each one has a story, an important story.

That Saturday afternoon, he had not eaten all day. A church group was feeding people in the park. In line for the free food, he started chatting with an older woman. She had been homeless for four months, but she told him that in one month she would be able to get off the streets and stay with her daughter. Cole asked where her daughter was now. The woman told him that her daughter was in jail. But when she gets out, her daughter has a way to make money, so she will not be homeless.

After telling this story, Cole stopped. He fought to keep his composure. Cole said he kept seeing this woman’s face. He could not get her out of his mind. And that is the point. After shaving, after showering, after slipping into the warm bed in a comfortable house, how then not to forget? How to keep seeing that face?

Cole’s journey of a few miles, but such a long distance, changed him. And I believe those who were lucky enough to attend services on Saturday night were changed as well. We all left with slightly expanded hearts.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.