There is a hollow space in my heart. John DiDonna died this week. John wasn’t homeless. He had financial resources, social friends from his church and an older sister who lives near Sacramento. What John didn’t have were close companions. He had become isolated in his house as his health declined. I came to know John in 1997 through the social justice circle at the Unitarian Universalist Church (UUC). John cared about justice and people, especially those struggling with homelessness.
Each Tuesday for 14 years John attended the weekly city supervisor’s meetings and read a prepared statement at public comment time, using the allotted 2 minutes to speak against punitive laws and actions that only caused greater misery and set people further back rather than help them move ahead in life. Taking people’s shopping carts and belongings, removing benches, fining groups for serving food to people living on the streets, giving people tickets for loitering or sitting on a sidewalk, turning off the water in the public fountain and putting chains around it so people didn’t bathe in it, and so many other futile and misguided decisions were challenged by John, speaking with thoughtfulness, respect and clarity, calling all of us to think together and act together and make laws and policies that truly addressed the needs of the poor people and disenfranchised of the city.
We helped John move from his apartment of 40 years into an assisted living place. We walked with him through a hip replacement, the subsequent complications, and kept him stocked with popcorn and creamy cakes.
As I prepare for another 7-day retreat into the streets, I do so inspired and strengthened by John’s commitment to pay attention, reflect and continually speak up, and with tremendous gratitude for these past months with John, Jackie and Nieves and for our intention as Faithful Fools to accompany one another. Whether homed or homeless, whether we have financial resources or not, we need people to walk with us, to advocate for us, to see our light and courage, and to encourage.