When Sandra Johnson was a little girl, her father would ask her the same two questions at the end of every day.

Were you the best you could be?

Did you do the best you could do?

Seven decades later, his little girl walked into the Minnesota Legislature, counting each step on the grand staircase outside, making each one count. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. Forty. She had arrived.

"At the end of the day, I could say, 'Yes sir, Daddy. I did the best I could do,'" she said.

It was Homeless Day at the Hill. A chance for politicians to stop talking about the housing crisis and listen. A chance for Johnson to make sure that the people who represent her actually understand her.

She always had a roof over her head. She always worked hard. She raised her four children after her husband, a veteran, died tragically young. Until she lost her job, lost her savings, lost her health and finally lost her home.

"Hi, my name is Sandra and I'm just the face of hundreds and hundreds of faces," she said, rising to her feet in a crowded Capitol hearing room — a space large enough to hold the Minneapolis constituents who had come to see their state Sen. Scott Dibble. "We never think we might wear [the label of] 'homeless' and have that stigma."

That was why she climbed all those stairs. She wanted to push back against that stigma. To share some of the stories she had heard from others less fortunate than herself. The very young, the very old, the very ill. The ones who had lost hope. The ones who headed into this snowy weekend without shelter.

One by one, others in the crowded room rose to share their stories and to lobby their lawmaker. They wanted what most of us probably want. Affordable housing. Safe, clean and peaceful mass transit. More funding to help homeless youth. Support for those struggling with mental illness and addiction. They came to beg their lawmakers to do something about the fentanyl epidemic that has killed so many Minnesotans, including Johnson's 41-year-old son.

They talked. Their senator listened.

"As legislators, we look at legislation, we look at spreadsheets," said Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. "And those are very important, but they're a little bit abstract. They become humanized and contextualized when we meet people."

So meet Sandra Johnson, who lost her home, but never her hope, her joy or her desire to help others.

Once, she had a job and a three-bedroom home. She was two classes away from an accounting degree. Until, as she says, "life happened." Family members fell ill. Her own cancer returned. She dipped into her retirement savings to pay for her mother's funeral expenses. Her job was outsourced and she was downsized. She lost her home and found herself sleeping in her car.

Most people she met, she figures, had no idea. "I styled, I smiled," she said. "I went about my day."

Six years later, she found her way to the Catholic Charities Evergreen Residence – 88 single-room units of supportive, permanent housing, just down the street from the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

"Everyone has a story," she said. "When you start asking, you realize 'Wow, I'm not really going through anything. I'm not going to complain.' "

These days, she focuses on helping the people around her. She looks after her neighbors at Evergreen, tidying up the public spaces, checking in on the new arrivals and cheering each success story when someone moves out into a place of their own.

She volunteers. She teaches computer classes for seniors at the community center. She cooks enough to share. She lobbies the Legislature.

"She has now become Mother Johnson," said Brandon Johnson, senior property manager at Catholic Charities Twin Cities. He wishes the community celebrated the courage and resilience and successes of more people like her. "She's the person who looks out for everyone here on campus."

Sometimes, Johnson thinks about everything she's lost. Her father, her mother, her husband, her son, her career, her home. Sometimes, she looks at the grand old mansions in town and dreams. Then she remembers who she is, what her father taught her, and what she still has.

"Now, I have an 88-bedroom residence," she said, her smile brightening. "Yeah, kind of like a mansion."