John Donahue, fighter for the homeless

John Donahue, the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, died on Nov. 17. Donahue – known to his many friends as Juancho – was hospitalized at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 64.

Donahue served as executive director of the CCH since 1990. Under his leadership, the coalition’s work focused on finding ways to prevent and end homelessness, pushing for workable solutions that create more affordable housing and living wage jobs.

Prior to joining CCH, Donahue worked three years in Panama as project director for Agro Bia Mundi Yala. Fluent in Spanish, he organized indigenous tribes to protect their habitat and crops in the Panamanian rainforest.

From 1982-87, Donahue was a founder and executive director of Comité Latino, organizing for jobs, housing and fair immigration policies among families and religious groups in Chicago’s Uptown and Rogers Park communities. As a division director at The Association House of Chicago (1979-82), Donahue oversaw youth employment and employment training programs.

A former Catholic priest, Donahue was vicar of the Archdiocese of Panama from 1971 to 1979. In those years he lived in a squatters community, San Miguelito, near Panama City. He organized and developed a national preschool project, a credit union, a housing project, and various cooperatives.

Donahue held volunteer leadership posts at the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, Jobs with Justice, the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America, Service for Popular Education in Latin America, and the Chicago Grassroots Collaborative. He was a consistent sponsor of the annual Chicago’s People’s Weekly World banquet, and a recipient of the banquet’s Rudy Lozano/

Chris Hani award in 1993.

Emile Schepers, program director at the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, said, “John Donahue was a giant who had a global understanding of the interplay between class oppression and the struggle for justice. He knew that an injustice anywhere in the world had to be fought everywhere in the world, and he put this knowledge into practice every day of his life.”

Survivors include his wife of 24 years, Icela, and their five children, Belen, Maricela, Lisa, Daniel and Megan.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the John A. Donahue Family Education Trust Fund, care of O’Keefe Lyons & Hynes, LLC, 30 N. LaSalle Street, Suite 4100, Chicago, IL 60602; and/or Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Juancho Esperanza Fund, 1325 S. Wabash Ave., #205, Chicago, IL 60605.