With a smile on his face, just under the uniquely southern mustache, and a distinct smell Johnny Colorado walked into our lives. All Brett Stover, Will Gregg and I had to do was drive him fifteen minutes to get Johnny home, but his trip was much longer.

Given that the topic of my recent blog posts—homelessness—was overwhelming my trip to Denver as the dominant theme, it was nice to find a success story. Johnny Colorado had one, along with a dozen other colorful stories.

One of Johnny’s tales was about being robbed—of five inches in height. He claims he used to stand 5’9’’ but now only reaches 5’4’’ and the culprit is a chiropractor. With all the poking and prodding his spine was bending in all new directions, but he kept going back. The chiropractor was the only thing covered after a car accident. Even though Johnny was shrinking in the passenger seat the chiropractor was not the wildest part of the story.

The doctor and his prescribed treatment, which Johnny swears by, added a heavy dose of the zany. Now, I am sure my memory is not exact, but if memory serves Johnny’s remedy involved lying on his back with one leg in the air, and massaging his thigh while blowing up a balloon. Supposedly, this ‘exercise’ was the only way he could straighten his spine. Despite the absurdity of his task, this was probably one of the easiest obstacles he has overcome.

Just meeting Johnny in Denver speaks to his life’s hurdles. He is originally from Louisiana. About the time hurricane Katrina showed up Johnny decided life would be easier in Colorado. Now, he works selling steaks and lives just outside Denver.

Johnny is a constant entertainer with many a story to tell. Discussing his job selling steaks or life around Denver he laughs and jokes while sharing life lessons gleaned from 26 years of experience. But one topic shifted his tone from lighthearted to serious.

Homelessness was more than a talking point for Johnny. He remembers when he was 15 far from his family and without a place to spend the night. His mom’s advice was to find the nearest homeless shelter, and that is exactly what he did.

Johnny started his comeback at a homeless shelter. It provided the teen with a warm meal and a bed for the night. The shelter gave Johnny the time and security to turn his life around, find work, and get a place of his own. But the shelter was not perfect.

Once Johnny found work the shelter became harder to visit. Adhering to check in times was a requirement to get a bed and Johnny’s two jobs did not mesh with the shelter’s schedule. He recalls spending nights underneath a bridge and heading to work the next morning in a suit and tie, and he was not the only one. There were a shocking number of his coworkers doing exactly the same thing. Such a statement would be hard to believe if I had not seen nearly 50 homeless people before taking 100 steps into town.

Most shocking about Johnny Colorado’s story is how quickly he fell into homelessness at such a young age. Johnny found himself homeless when most are learning to drive and tackling challenges like freshman English class. In a flash Johnny became homeless and freeing himself took years and forced him into plenty of unpleasant situations. It was a struggle to break habits he built on the streets, and to form new ones.

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