Homeless Speakers Bureau stories inspire action

Jeff vonKaenel

“I went to high school with Darrell Steinberg. He … went [on] to the state Capitol, and I went to Folsom Prison.”

That’s how David Husid, Cottage Housing’s development director, recently introduced Sacramento’s mayor. The occasion was the March 29 kickoff of the Regional Coalition to End Homelessness’ new Homeless Speakers Bureau, held at Quinn Cottages. Husid hosted the event.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna led off, talking of the “human cost of homelessness” and the efforts of the city and county to work together. As he was speaking, I kept glancing at the large photo of his father, former Mayor Joe Serna, holding a huge pair of scissors and cutting a large ribbon in front of Cottage Housing, founded in 1994.

Were he still alive, nearly 25 years later, Joe Serna would be proud of his son, who has continued Joe’s legacy of service. He would also be proud of the hundreds of people who have turned their lives around at Quinn Cottages and Serna Village, which provide supportive housing for homeless families. But he also would be sad to see so many people still living on Sacramento’s streets.

That’s what Steinberg wants to change. Steinberg is asking the city, county and state, as well as nonprofits and the business community, to contribute more resources to address homelessness in our region. At the Cottage Housing event, Steinberg stressed that we must do more.

He spoke about the importance of stories “that when told can translate into political action.” Then one nervous speaker after another—initial members of the Speakers Bureau—stood and told their stories.

Chantay White was an Air Force vet who was raped in the military, suffered from depression and got involved with drugs, but then was helped by Sacramento Women’s Empowerment.

Wesley Colter had a traumatic childhood on and off the streets since he ran away from home at age 12. He got involved with drugs and went to prison. Once he was very angry, but now he is a happily married college graduate.

The stories were powerful. Some speakers were victims of abuse. Some struggled with poverty or bad luck. Many made a bad situation worse with drugs. But people came into their lives who believed in them and stood by them when they failed.

Now their lives are on track. They have spouses. They have jobs. They have housing. And they have confidence. It was an honor to hear their stories and to be in a room with people who have overcome so much more than I could ever imagine.

At the event, the SN&R was awarded the first-annual Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award, given to the media in recognition of homelessness coverage. Our associate editor, Raheem F. Hosseini, has written extensively about Sacramento’s homeless, and he edited John Flynn and Matt Kramer’s recent story about Russell Bartholow, a homeless man who, prior to his death, had racked up $100,000 in tickets related to his homelessness. Hosseini and Flynn attended the event.

At the News & Review, we will hang our plaque with pride. But what we really want to see is more photos of our current mayor lifting big scissors and cutting more ribbons in front of new supportive-housing units.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

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