Diane Davis stands on stage with her back straight, head held high and a smile on her face. Her voice chimes the melody of "We Are Family."
The words of the Sister Sledge tune mean more to Davis than she can convey. Indeed, she's performing with a family of sorts, a group of people who have gone through similar struggles and share familiar stories.
Like Davis, all of the members of the Voices of Our City Choir were either once homeless or are still currently living on the streets of San Diego.
"When I open my mouth and people hear my voice, it's not for me," said 59-year-old Davis, who has two degrees and found herself homeless downtown for the last half of 2016 after her husband was arrested. "It's for those that have been suppressed, restricted, made low and in prison. It's not an easy experience. Music has helped give me a much bigger voice than I ever thought that I would use to help people."
After about six months of the cold, heat, neglect and abuse while living without shelter, Davis met Steph Johnson, CEO and executive director of the San Diego-based Voices of Our City Choir.
"Steph came along, and she basically saved my life," said Davis, who suffers from PTSD and depression. "I think I would have been dead, definitely, because I have taken on too much. It's hard when you're sitting on the sidewalk with your sign and people walk by you and look at you like you're garbage. That's not right. The world on a whole needs to be taught how to take care of their people. This is not how you take care of people."
For two years, the nonprofit Voices of Our City Choir has given homeless individuals a weekly place to go, as well as weekly deliveries of 1,000 pounds of food and resources for finding temporary and permanent housing.
So far, 30 people — including Davis — have been placed into homes with the choir's help.
Johnson, a professional musician, said prior to founding the choir with friend Nina Deering, she advocated for more affordable housing in the city after seeing more women, children, seniors and people with disabilities on the streets.
"There wasn't really a way for them to get out of that situation," she said.
Now, she said, about 65 former and current homeless individuals attend choir rehearsals every Friday at Living Waters Church in San Diego. She considers it an outlet for them to forget their frustrations, even if for an hour during the sessions.
"Music is studied for the way it affects the brain and the positive effect it has on a person who's in crisis or suffering from PTSD or something traumatic," Johnson said. "It's incredibly healing. It has no judgment."
Davis said the choir also helped her add more stability in her life.
"They helped me to have my mind at peace, to be able to start work again, to go on my journey to take care of my husband... all these standard things that people take for granted in the society we live in today," she said.
Voices of Our City Choir — which was featured in an hour-long PBS documentary — will perform at Seaside Center for Spiritual Living on Aug. 8 at 6 p.m. The group also plans to announce a monthly residency at Flower Hill Promenade in Del Mar in the near future, Johnson said.
For more information, visit www.voicesofourcity.org.