Voices of Our City Choir

Voices of Our City, the innovative program created to harness the power of music to change lives, gives homeless men and women hope and a chance to connect with others. The choir not only provides an outlet for unsheltered San Diegans to participate in the uplifting benefits of music and creativity, but also serves as an access point to services. Voices of Our City has provided the perfect vehicle for dozens of choir members to get off the street and into permanent housing.”  - Assemblymember Todd Gloria, District 78

Voices of Our City is changing the perception and experience of homelessness through the healing power of the arts.

A short history of the uplifting community known as Voices of Our City Choir:
In the summer of 2016, San Diego’s homeless population was exploding. The removal of 10,000 affordable housing units had been replaced with upscale units, leaving the city’s most vulnerable citizens unsheltered. Musician/Jazz vocalist, Steph Johnson noticed the suffering and began to organize outreach that brought food, clothing, blankets and friendship to people experiencing homelessness. Inspiration came from doing outreach and discovering that many people living on the streets were artists and musicians with no outlet. It was during this time that she met Pastor Chris Nafis who offered his humble church as a meeting place for outreach and community building. Located in the “low bottoms” area of East Village in Downtown, the church was a worn-down metal warehouse that sat in the center of the homelessness crisis. Earlier that same day, Steph met a woman living on the street who was a singer in a choir for the unsheltered in Chicago. Understanding the power of music and group singing, Steph had the idea to join together and have choral music-making available to the people experiencing homelessness in the area. Serendipitously, Steph had just met a talented musician and choir director, Nina Deering. Nina then provided support and her skills to help Steph build what is now known as Voices of Our City Choir. 

In less than 4 years, VOICES has grown into:

-       250 members of unsheltered and sheltered individuals

-       110 or more individuals participate each Friday at open rehearsals

-       60 individuals perform as part of the professional performance ensemble

Through music and community, individuals are seen and heard which leads to hope and the possibility of rebuilding a stronger sense of self and dignity.

To date, VOICES has helped:

-       13 individuals move into safe shelter/temporary

-       41 individuals move into their own housing

-       14 individuals now have gainful employment

-       12 individuals now in recovery from addiction

During COVID-19, our mission has expanded:
We are working overtime during the Pandemic. Staying connected with our members is our top priority. We have moved all of our music workshops online and introduced dancing workshops, cooking classes and a weekly check in called “Soul Space” which opens the conversation around prayer, meditation and staying grounded and positive through the crisis.

We have expanded our food programs considerably. In partnership with Living Water Church and the San Diego Food bank, we are distributing 3 tons of fresh food a week. With libraries and coffee shops closed, we have opened a charging station 7 days a week so that individuals living on the street can keep their devices charged. We are also distributing clothing, blankets, masks, gloves and toiletries.

What we currently need:
The next step is to increase our outreach effort in the community. We need the resources to successfully deploy a team of trained employees, case managers and Peer Advocates (choir members who have become leaders within the organization and have lived experience of homelessness) who can get out in the community, build relationships and refer our unsheltered citizens to the Convention Center.

Why the Convention Center?
The Convention Center has opened as an emergency shelter and is currently managing about 800 individuals. We are working closely with the City of San Diego to refer individuals into the shelter where they can receive 3 meals a day, a safe space to sleep and practice social distancing, medical attention, access to case management and housing navigators. Most importantly, they are receiving education on the coronavirus.

Become a part of the solution!
1. Voices of Our City Choir is the welcoming, supportive family community that unsheltered individuals need in order to feel the consistent encouragement to move forward with their lives. It takes a village – we are that village!

2. From the Convention Center, the City’s plan is to move the individuals into their own affordable housing, while still providing the individual with the wrap around services they need.

3. With your help, we could make a significant impact in bringing hope and change to people suffering homelessness in San Diego by organizing outreach that refers individuals to the Convention Center, while providing them with the loving community they need to make their shift out of homelessness a more long-term reality.  

Join our mission, support this effort! Our goal is to raise $40,000 to cover operational hours, insurance, gas/travel and miscellaneous outreach expenses. (The $21,280 is the amount we raised back in 2017/2018 which helped us get started with our music programs.)

On behalf of the Voices of Our City Choir and the members we serve, thank you for considering VOICES as a non-profit organization to support. Your donations are tax-deductible and you will receive a receipt at the end of the year for your financial support.

Steph Johnson

Executive Director
Creative Director

April 28th, 2020
  • Julian Cogan 
    • $100 
    • 24 mos
  • maren heissenberg 
    • $20 
    • 25 mos
  • McArthur Family 
    • $100 
    • 26 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 26 mos
  • Natasha Galchenko 
    • $20 
    • 27 mos
See all


Steph Johnson 
San Diego, CA