Johnny O was our first contributing homeless creative. Another of our contributing artists, my friend Nicole Huguenin, introduced us and John sent along his first poem Gems 3.61 “Cause and Effect.” Nicole and John met at the Denver library.
Johnny is a poet, activist, and volunteer in Denver. He was recently on a panel to help make sure that a percentage of the cigarette taxes go to funding school lunches for children who need them in Denver.
John and I are working together on his life story. Johnny was very keen to do this when he learned about Volunteer Biographers, an idea that was born 40 years ago and finally brought to light when I joined KindSpring.
To give you an idea of how special Johnny is, today while we were talking on the phone a man came up and asked for food money. I heard Johnny quietly say that he had a five and a one, then “Here, you take the five and share it if you can.” Six dollars is all he had, and he gave away five.
As soon as he got housing last year after 19 years on the street, John gave away the heavy winter camping gear my husband and I got for him a few years ago to someone who needed it. Denver winters can be brutal. Then, a few months later, all tenants were evicted en masse when they sold the building. There was no allowance given for John or the other tenants because we were all in full lockdown. So he had to go back on the street. Currently, he’s sleeping under a bush where sprinklers are known to go off even in October meaning he wakes up covered in ice.
He works as a volunteer at a café in Denver where anyone to get meals in exchange for work. I think it’s such a great idea. They are hosting a writer’s group there and John has promised to get another half dozen poems to me soon. Once that happens, we can start working on a poetry collection he can self publish.
John always asks how I am when we talk. He’s talented, articulate, very outgoing, and friendly so this lockdown has been especially challenging. All the places he normally goes to write and to volunteer such as libraries, the senior center, and his writer’s groups, are closed. He has no routine and very few places to get warm, not only at night but all day now, too. Like any true extrovert, John gets his ideas and inspiration from other people so he is really looking forward to the new writer’s group at the café. Me too! New Gems coming soon!