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Journalism award replaces ones stolen during homelessness

I always have let my work define me. Why this award from NewsBreak means so much after all I've been through

By David HeitzPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

I recently received the “Local Champion” award from NewsBreak, the local news aggregator I write for every day. It means a lot to me.

Someone stole my journalism awards when I became homeless in 2019. I lugged the awards around in one of two shopping bags I carried for a few weeks.

One day I had gone to Union Station to use the restroom. I asked a homeless woman outside if she would watch my shopping cart bag full of journalism awards as I used the restroom. She said she would be happy to do so.

When I returned, the woman, and my journalism awards, were gone. A bottle of cologne that also was in the bag littered the light rail tracks.

My journalism awards and memorabilia adorned my office walls before I became homeless.

I lost everything when I became homeless, and at one point I owned a home and lots of “stuff.” But I don’t think anything hurt worse than losing the journalism awards.

A silver lining: I had taken a picture of all the awards hanging on the wall of the office in my old house. Since I had posted the photo online, it lives on. I lost every other picture I ever owned when I abandoned my apartment in Glendale after becoming fearful.

Some of my journalism awards and memorabilia.

I am hardcore about journalism

Much of my identity is wrapped around what I do for a living. I take reporting the truth very seriously and even have put myself in danger to do it. Do I live for what I do? Kind of. When I’m not working, I suffer from boredom and depression. I don’t feel engaged with the community. I don’t have purpose, which is so important to me.

My journalism awards represented work I considered meaningful. Ironically, one of my journalism awards was for a piece I wrote in 2005, I believe, on homeless panhandlers. The Iowa Newspaper Association awarded me first place in the news category.

Certainly, I never thought then I could become homeless. Well, I always knew it might be possible. Suffering from bipolar disorder that can be severe, there were times in my life I was unable to work. During those times, my father supported me. When he died, it was inevitable that I could become homeless.

And I did. And when I lost those journalism awards it was like someone drove a stake through my pride. But I managed to rise above those feelings. The impact I make with my stories isn’t lessened because someone stole my awards.

An award for a piece about panhandling

Some of the awards had sentimental value. I won an Award of Excellence from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club for a story I wrote for the Glendale News-Press about my mother’s final days. She died of breast cancer in 1995.

I also had some ribbons. The Orange County Fair for years, and I don’t know if it still does, had a news writing contest. You could enter stories in several categories. In addition to the ribbons the winners received cash. I cleaned up one year, winning two seconds and two thirds. I think I won $150. That, too, was back in the 1990s. I won the ribbons for pieces written for The Anaheim Bulletin.

My first award came in 1989. My hometown newspaper, the Quad-City Times, called me an “Outstanding Journalist” as a high school student. I worked for the paper from age 17 until I graduated from college.

Award represents recovery

I am grateful to have a new journalism award to remind me my work matters. The Local Champion award is especially meaningful to me. I moved from my hometown to Denver under great duress, and when I arrived a lot of bad things happened. The award stands for how I’ve been able to make a home in Denver and contribute to the community despite the lows I experienced.

It’s a cool-looking award, too. It’s the iconic red NewsBreak “N” logo in glass. Impressive.

During homelessness, journalism continued to be the reason I got up every day. I wrote a blog about homelessness every single day. I would send it to the Denver police and City Council.

At the time I suffered from severe mental illness. I am embarrassed about how I acted at times. But I cannot change that. I can only handle how I conduct myself now.

I am glad I have been doing so in a way that leads to awards. I feel like my psychiatrist should get an award for all she’s done for me.

In the meantime, I am so grateful to NewsBreak. I don’t plan to let this trophy get stolen.


About the Creator

David Heitz

I am a journalist with more than 30 years' experience. Here at Vocal, I write mainly for Potent, Vocal's cannabis magazine. I have a PTSD diagnosis and a medical cannabis card. I have lived in a penthouse and also experienced homelessness.

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