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.
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 is 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!
We began celebrating what John describes beautifully as “Gratitude Day” every month on the 28th. During the month, John writes once a week at SAME Cafe to a prompt that Matt Salis, the facilitator, gives the group. Each month on the 28th we can look forward to a new piece to celebrate John’s Gratitude Day for another month of wellness. So grateful for your friendship, John. Congrats. Your story — from the hardest times to recovery, wellness, and total triumph — is an inspiration.
9News (KUSA) – Denver, January 14, 2018: “Hope” performed by John Olander.