Kent Andersen had his mind on the great outdoors. He would put his Environmental Studies undergraduate degree to use working for a federal land management agency. Maybe the Forest Service. Perhaps the Bureau of Land Management. The National Park Service? That sounded pretty cool, too.
Then a schedule that didn’t feel busy enough led him to pursue a Sacramento State Mayoral Fellowship and, as Andersen says, that “completely changed my direction.”
It has worked out well so far for Andersen, 32. Having completed five months working for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, he’ll receive his master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration at the spring Commencement. And on April 18, he began working as a city planner in Syracuse, a rapidly growing city of about 23,000 people in his native Utah.
Andersen landed the fellowship after seeing it on a Public Policy and Administration listserv and discussing it with Dean of Social Sciences Charles Gossett, whose advice was, “Do it.” While working for Johnson, Andersen played a supporting role in the start-up of Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit initiative to end homelessness in Sacramento.
Operating under a joint powers authority, Sacramento Steps Forward aspires to become a national model for delivering homeless services. It focuses on finding permanent housing for the homeless and getting away from short-term fixes. “That’s really how we’re going to solve homelessness, not short-term or emergency housing,” Andersen says, adding that the nation has fallen short the past 30 years in focusing on emergency shelters.
It’s such a grasp of the issue that impressed Anne Moore. As the mayor’s homeless liaison, Moore worked closely with Andersen. She praised his work on various efforts, such as the interfaith winter sanctuary program, working on budget and cash-flow analysis, and in preparing materials for presentation. “He’s a real roll-up-the-sleeves kind of guy, which is very much appreciated because sometimes you have to do whatever it takes and it’s not very glamorous,” Moore says. “With Kent, there are no ego challenges at all.”
Andersen says among the benefits for him were working with some of the leaders in the field of homeless advocacy, including Chet Hewitt of the Sierra Health Foundation, Teichert Foundation Vice President Fred Teichert, Tom Gagen of Sutter Health, and Pastor Rick Cole, the CFO and treasurer of Capital Christian Center. And, of course, the mayor himself, whom Andersen persuaded to speak at Commencement.
“I’d never worked for a politician,” Andersen says. “Working in an office like that was a unique experience, not only being in the capital but working for such a dynamic leader. Working with a mayor who can bring in such high players was really exciting.”