Dayle McIntosh Center’s Housing Liaison, Marisol Johnson Receives United Way OC Unsung Heroes Honor for Helping the Homeless

 Picture or Marisol Johnson
Anaheim, CA –
They say home is where the heart is. For the 7,322 homeless people in Orange County, their hearts rely upon the generous hardworking hearts of others and their compassionate advocacy to battle a growing homelessness crisis.  The Dayle McIntosh Center (DMC) whose mission is access and equity by, and for, people with disabilities and older adults is pleased to announce Housing Liaison, Marisol Johnson has been selected as The Unsung Heroes of the Year being recognized by The United Way OC’s 2024 Unsung Heroes program for her hardworking heart dedicated to fighting the homelessness crisis with her tireless work in the community.

“I’m very grateful for this recognition. I was initially taken back, with sense of humility. I found myself wishing to do even more to make a difference. I look forward for my impact to be on a larger scale!  I think the most crucial aspect to understand homelessness is to understand that it could happen to everyone,” states DMC’s Housing Liaison and recognized Unsung Hero, Marisol Johnson who is passionate about fighting OC’s homelessness crisis which affects all ethnicities, veterans, youth, families, individuals, people with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, LGBTQ+ individuals, as they face family rejection and discrimination and the older adult population.

Johnson, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and has worked at DMC for eight years across a spectrum of services including Independent Living Skills, Community Transitions and Housing Services giving her many lenses to further recognize the bigger picture.  

“Unfortunately, there isn’t enough government housing assistance. Everything is increasing especially the cost of rent. People’s benefits and salaries are not. Even people with high-paying jobs are struggling to pay their rent, due to inflation, the increases people face are unavoidable so it’s essential for people to have more compassion for what could happen to anyone. For example, a family member may have a medical condition or may have passed away – these unexpected events could affect their ability to work, or miss a paycheck, where they would get behind on both general and medical bills.  It’s important for us to move beyond the stereotyping of what homelessness means. All individuals deserve dignity, respect and support and it is important to always advocate for others, because this could happen to you one day,” explains Johnson.

Of Orange County’s 7,322 homeless in the county’s recent 2024 report, the demographic breakdown supports what Johnson says in that ‘homelessness can happen to anyone.’ 328 Veterans Persons who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves; 308 Transitional Youth Persons ages 18 to 24; 869 Seniors Persons age 62 and older are just a portion of the people needing services. Johnson continues to work with a variety of consumers in different situations, most with disabilities, which is why the Unsung Heroes program focuses on recognizing that this fight in the homelessness crisis truly takes a village to eradicate it from OC.  The concept of Unsung Heroes is to honor individuals serving the community in different capacities. One of the organization’s key initiatives is United to End Homelessness a targeted commitment to ending homelessness in Orange County so that everyone has a place to call home while adhering to their mission to improve lives in Orange County by delivering measurable long-term solutions to complex issues in education, financial stability, health and housing.

United Way OC’s Associate Director, Community Strategies United to End Homelessness, Michael Shepherd says “My hope is the listing of United Way’s Unsung Heroes reaches others on a broader level.  It’s not just one organization who addresses homelessness – we work together to address the crisis. This honor is about empowering people to see that they are part of the bigger movement.  There is a cross-pollination effect where one of thirty honorees can in turn get to know other organizations doing meaningful work. One organization can find out about the mission of another organization, also working to create a solution. People who are doing this challenging work often find it isolating at times.  Unsung Heroes helps to connect everyone see that they are making a difference bigger than what they might see at their desk.”

Pictured L-R: DMC’s Housing Team: Housing Coordinators, Lizeth Arroyo and Adam Sandoval, Housing Liaison, Marisol Johnson and Director of Collaborative Programs, Ruth Cho. Johnson sees the impact beyond her desk, as her heart expands with compassion for both people and animals when it rains, knowing they need to find ways to stay warm. She looks towards what she and others can continue to do beyond just their own work.  Actions beyond words matter to Johnson. “What you do is important. I always encourage my consumers to vote on things that are important for others. Most people don’t take action on things unless it affects them. Advocating for policies and laws that support health care, social services, and putting yourself in other people’s shoes matters. Actions to support local organizations, shelters, doing fundraising…. Here at DMC we have a new Volunteer Program  where you can participate as a Housing Volunteer among other volunteer roles and that is something you can do to make a difference. Have a seat at the table, be part of a committee or a group.  Choose to help people with disabilities – it’s how we can expand to help more people in need. We don’t just make change for people with disabilities in housing, but every area – I encourage people to join us.” 

The Dayle McIntosh Center (DMC) and United Way of OC have a long history together.  In 1977, DMC found a place to call ‘their very first home’ at the United Way Plaza in Garden Grove where together the two organizations partnered in providing community educational workshops and outreach as part of a collaborative effort.  DMC’s very first Fundraising Chair Donald A. Nelson supported both organizations to bring together this essential partnership which also included community crossover crosspollination service needs.  DMC has provided Housing Assistance Support Services and resources since Day One and continues to be a go-to as the only Independent Living Center in Orange County.

DMC’s Housing Program is seeing constant developments and changes with regard to ongoing demand as the need for housing assistance reflects the Boomer Generation, a group that Governor Newsom will be continuing to address further with the State’s Master Plan on Aging. The County’s recent data notes adults ages 55-61 makeup 545 people unsheltered vs. 491 sheltered; ages 62-64 make up 191 people unsheltered vs. 168 people sheltered and finally, those 65+ 222 people unsheltered vs. 288 unsheltered.  

“Currently, the majority of referrals we receive are for older adults on fixed incomes who are no longer able to afford their rent due to annual increases and rising costs of living. We have also been seeing an increase in requests from individuals who speak English as a second language, as well as unhoused individuals who are needing affordable and accessible Housing,” shares Ruth Cho, DMC’s Director of Collaborative Services.  “Being able to work with Housing providers directly to provide disability awareness and accommodation trainings enables us to strengthen and increase housing opportunities for the disability community as a whole,” she explains.

“DMC is part of the broader collective of agencies. It takes all of us working together to end homelessness,” shares United Way OC’s, Michael Shepherd. “As we continue to collaborate, we’ll find out more about the mission work that is there among us uniting together.”   Shepherd’s statement is a reminder that OC’s homelessness issue is a community collaborative and joining efforts in working together not only changes the landscape of Orange County and what we do to move forward, but the work itself changes all of us on levels as residents, workers, advocates and leaders for our community.

“Working to address homelessness has profoundly affected my life personally and professionally.  It helps me have deeper empathy and compassion. I have heard so many stories of individuals, challenges, experiences and I learned how easily someone can become unhoused.  I try to lead with passion and openness to change things. Change is the key to success – I am going to fight to create change for what I feel is right and fair. It’s the saying reach for the moon and you fall in the stars… I have grown as a leader.  Sometimes one has to have high expectations, be strong, grow – for me being a leader means taking charge while continuing working with others to make the impossible possible.”

Johnson, who considers her mother, Virginia Leon, her hero, was shown the foundation of giving back, where she learned from her mother’s persistent and tenacious nature ‘always trying her best’ with infinite selflessness, showing up sweet, caring and giving blankets to the homeless. Johnson’s career at DMC has taught her Independent Living Service adaptive techniques and that people with disabilities have the right to make their own decisions, and that the power of peer support can create change and make a difference. This has propelled her own leadership into thinking about the future of what she wants to do to be part of the solution.

“I want to continue working on advocating for more accessible units in OC– we are all getting older anyone could become disabled at any time in their lives. My vision for the future is for all apartment complexes not only to have accessible units that meet ADA requirements but to exceed those requirements. I want OC and the USA to be inclusive –where people would be able to get an accessible unit easily, or have that unit become accessible to meet their needs with this service available everywhere.  Beyond this, I have more ideas. I created a Shared Housing Program a while back and would like to revive it so individuals can combine their incomes to apply for market-rate apartments. Additionally, I would love to advocate for increased benefits to align with today’s cost of living

DMC, entering its 47th year as OC’s only Independent Living Center is a State of California 501(c)(3) non-profit peer-to-peer organization where most of the staff is composed of individuals, who have disabilities themselves and have lived experiences. With success in doing so, first-hand support, services, knowledge, information resources, and experience add to the ability to expand outreach demonstrating what is possible in becoming self-sufficient and rising above challenges.

To learn more about DMC’s Housing Services Program click HERE. If you’d like to donate to The Dayle McIntosh Center you can do so by clicking HERE.  Find out about the many ways you can support DMC HERE.  Interested in volunteering as a Housing Coordinator or for other roles?  CLICK HERE.

For more information on DMC’s programs and services go to or call directly at 714-621-3300.  For media story inquiries, please contact Publicist, Stacey Kumagai, Media Monster Communications, Inc. at 818.506.8675.                    

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