Our Speakers and Staff
Loretta Johnson is the coordinator of the Speaker's Bureau and is passionate about the issues that are affecting the homeless worldwide. She believes that the only way to solve these issues is by educating others. Through education and advocacy, the homeless and formerly homeless community can fight the battle to end homelessness in America.
Wilma Smith - Wilma’s bouts with homelessness happened when she aged out of the foster care system with her child at only seventeen years old. She struggled with putting her child back into the same system that failed her, and for four years learned to survive on the streets of Massachusetts. This made her stronger; she then went to college and visited her child. All while living in the shelter system and abiding by their rules, which wasn’t easy. In her third year of homelessness, she became pregnant with her second child. That was a big wake up call for Wilma. She longed for stability for her family; she then applied for housing in every city in Massachusetts. Upon her fourth year of homelessness she received a section 8 certificate which she uses to be housed with today. Wilma is currently an active member in her community she is a chairperson of Barton Street Association, a recent graduate of Rhode Island College, a staff member of Amos House, and now working on opening her own place to help teens aging out the system.
Erik Ehn is a playwright, and the head of playwriting at Brown University. He facilitates the Tenderloin Opera Company – an art making collective working with the Speaker’s Bureau.
Carlton Pona - "Hey Ya’ll I was homeless for the first time 3 years ago. I stayed at the Rescue Mission for a period of 3 months. From there I’ve had a place of my own and still do to this day. I have a lot to share on my homeless times and experiences and I will gladly share with ya’ll on this problematic topic."
Diana Freeman - Originally from Providence. Diana’s bouts with homelessness happened very quickly. While working as a waitress and a ballroom dance instructor she lost her home to a fire. Hoping to stay with her sister here in RI, she found her sister recovering from a stroke in a nursing home. Crossroads Women’s Shelter was her “home” for 15 months. During that time she joined the Speaker’s Bureau to educate the general public about the struggles and issues of being homeless. She is now very happy to have found public housing but still carries the emotional “scars” of being homeless.
Pamela Therrien - I became homeless in 2007, due to the fact that I could not find a job. This was my first time being homeless. I have worked all of my adult life and this was the first time I could not find a job. I had been living with family members, when I was asked to leave. Without a job, or any income I was forced to stay at the Women’s Shelter in Providence. Eventually, I was awarded Social Security Disability benefits, due to herniated discs in my neck. I have a subsidized apartment in downtown Providence. Also I am a part-time student at Rhode Island College where I am enrolled in the Masters of Social Work Program. As of December 2011, I have been living independently in my own apartment for four years. I joined the Speakers Bureau because it is important to me to tell my story of homelessness, to educate and dispel negative stereotypes of homeless Black women.
Francisco L Gonzalez is of Puerto Rican Ethnicity, was born in Fort Worth Texas.He lived out his childhood in San Juan Puerto Rico. In 1966 at the age of 11 his family moved to the USA. Francisco suffered homelessness while in college, and was fortunate to have a friend who took him in. He has received a certificate in Drugs and Alcohol from (URI) University of Rhode Island, and is currently completing his bachelors degree. Francisco is into giving back to the community, he is a publicist writer, Assistant Editor of Street Sights Newspaper, and the founder of Your Street College, the only street level of higher education organization.
is a native Rhode Islander who studied at the University of Rhode Island. Carl took a job in security before pursuing a career on Cruise Ships as a Cruise Director and onboard Entertainment Manager. After 11 years at sea, Carl again returned to RI, but was sidetracked by major health issues, including Cancer Surgery and a Heart Transplant. Struggling under the weight of medical bills, Carl became homeless and is now a resident at one of the House of Hope CDC properties in Warwick. Carl has become a member of the Board of Directors of the House of Hope CDC and is becoming an advocate for issues affecting the Homeless, and several Health issues.