Stories of Homelessness

By Nicole Hayden and Vickie Connor

The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased throughout California as housing costs have risen and the amount of federal funding to support homeless services has fallen.

The 2019 Point-in-Time count, which tallies the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night in January, saw numbers spike in nearly every Golden State city this year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said tackling the issue is a high priority and has earmarked billions of dollars to address it. Counties and local agencies must now fight for those funds, advocating for why their regions need it most. 

For the past year, The Desert Sun has investigated the local issues surrounding homelessness in the Coachella Valley, interviewing more than 200 individuals experiencing homelessness and investigating the local social service structures.

As part of this project, The Desert Sun invited community members Nora Soliz, Julie Hernandez and Greg Rodriguez to tell first-person stories about their struggles with homelessness and their successes out of it. Desert Sun health reporter Nicole Hayden also shared a story of how and why the newspaper is turning a spotlight on the topic. None of the four were professional live storytellers. Rather, they were members of the public who were coached to tell a story.

Nicole Hayden

Nicole Hayden is the health reporter at The Desert Sun, who has largely focused her reporting on homelessness. In the past year she has created data on the challenges of accessing health care while homeless and has investigated the local housing process.

Julie Hernadez

Julie Hernandez was born and raised in Indio. She graduated from Indio High School and currently works as a case manager at Martha’s Village and Kitchen. She believes regardless of the challenges she has faced, she is still the one responsible for determining what her life will look like.


Nora Soliz

Nora Soliz experienced homelessness in the Coachella Valley for seven years as she struggled with grief and depression following the death of family members, including her mother. She lived under bridges and in encampments until she and her partner were placed in housing. She has been thriving in an apartment in Indio for the past year.

Greg Rodriguez

Greg Rodriguez is the government affairs and public policy adviser for Riverside County 4th District Supervisor Manuel Perez. He is the lead staffer for health care policy in the county, including behavioral and public health. Rodriguez is also the supervisor’s lead staffer on homelessness and housing policy within the county. He has a deep passion for the topic following his own experience with homelessness after a string of tragic events early in his life. 

Be a teller at our next Stories of Homelessness event this fall:

Tellers are being sought to share a true, first-person stories. The exact date and location for each theme will be announced once confirmed. Email for information on how to get started or submit your story online here

Each teller receives a minimum of three hours of training to develop their stories. Tellers begin working with the project coaches about two months before the event, but you may send an email for any of the themes anytime — the earlier, the better. 

Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden covers health and healthcare in the Coachella Valley. She can be reached at or (760) 778-4623. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.

Vickie Connor is the Desert Sun video/storytelling editor and the coordinator for the Coachella Valley Storytellers Project. 

[This story was originally published by Desert Sun.]