John Joyce, a tireless activist for and loyal friend to the homeless community in Rhode Island, passed away last night. He was 50 years old.
“We are all better for knowing him,” said Jim Ryczek, his good friend and colleague at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.
He passed away at home last night with his partner Megan Smith by his side. She sang to him his favorite song as he left this life. He had lung cancer that had spread into his bones.
Joyce became an accomplished political activist; he was the author and driving force behind the passage of the nation’s first Homeless Bill of Rights last year and he was a strong presence at the State House, incessantly lobbying legislators to take action to end homelessness in Rhode Island. His greatest political asset was his ability to speak frankly with people.
His greatest accomplishment may have been beating the streets themselves. He was a laborer by trade earlier in life but a couple bad breaks left him homeless in Providence. He spent many a winter night sleeping outside near Rhode Island Hospital. Always a fighter, Joyce was able to find transitional housing, and then a job.
Whatever his job title happened to be in what he often called the “homeless industrial complex” his role was to serve as a liaison between the system and the homeless. He spent all day, and often long nights, hanging out in downtown Providence, helping people find services or trading in political gossip. He was equally adept at both.
For those of us fortunate to have known him, we will always remember his signature good-bye and wish it to him in whatever comes after this life: “Be safe, brother.”