He hugged everyone.
Even if he didn’t know you that well, he’d still wrap his burly arm around your shoulder as if you were a long lost friend. “How are you doing friend?” he’d ask.
It was just his way. He loved people.
So when Danny Antonioni died of lung cancer last week at aged 53, it left the homeless advocacy community in shock.
He’d been homeless for a big chunk of his life but was housed for at least the last five years. A loyal supporter of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
Embraced and supported by both groups.
He was a regular fixture at anti-poverty rallies, protests and demonstrations in Toronto. Because he cared about the homeless and the need for affordable housing.
“If you’d been at a rally or demonstration in Toronto, you would have seen Danny,” says Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and co-founder of TDRC, at Tuesday’s monthly homeless memorial vigil outside the Church of the Holy Trinity.
“It’s pretty amazing when someone that’s been in that circumstance (homeless) keeps fighting. And he was absolutely determined.”
As a result of their background, people like Danny speak about homelessness from a unique perspective.
What it’s like to sleep in a church basement and get little or no rest. When they get bed bugs. How they manage to survive. What it feels like to go hungry.
“They constantly bring the reality to what might be an academic exercise for others,” she says. “They’re both desperate and determined to make that message known.”
As long as little or no new affordable housing is built, the situation will only worsen. What’s out there right now is typically described as disgusting or scummy.
The fortunate ones who find an affordable housing unit don’t stay long because the housing is shabby and expensive. So they end up back on the streets or in shelters.
Those years of homelessness take a tremendous toll on a person’s body.
“There’s so much research that shows a higher incidence of cancer, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis and things like that,” says Crowe.
“Some of the people sleeping outside right now would even qualify for palliative care if it were available.”
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