Ontario man treks across Canada to raise awareness of homelessness

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 3, 2014

Jason McComb, 37, of St. Thomas, Ont. is drawing on his own personal experience as a homeless person in encouraging people during a cross-Canada trek to give a meaningful hand up to people struggling in life.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

Jason McComb knows his story is not the ultimate story of homelessness — just one of many.

Homeless people, says the St. Thomas, Ont., man, each has his or her own baggage that leaves them without a permanent residence.

There is, notes McComb, a “plethora of reasons’’ why some people end up on the street.

It could be a job or a relationship coming to a sudden end. Or the root cause may be a mental health problem or a struggle with addiction.

No two people have fallen into homelessness by slipping down the same dark path. So helping a person get back on his or her feet — and back into a home — requires care and attention to the specifics of each person’s plight, stresses McComb.

“There must be a level of understanding that we are individuals,’’ he says.

“So you have to see there is an individual here (and comprehend) what is broken.’’

Homeless shelters, in his view, are a mere umbrella bandage approach that skirts the real issues that result in many people being without a home. He prefers homeless people receiving a hand up, rather than a handout.

McComb, 37, has spent a good decade “collectively’’ over the past 20 years as a homeless person.

At 17, his stepfather sent him packing.

His mother had already split the scene.

He was alone and lonely and battling alcoholism that began when he was a mere boy. He would later be diagnosed with a manic depressive disorder.

He started sleeping at the home of friends but soon outstayed his welcome.

Suddenly, he was a homeless man, spending his nights sleeping in stairwells or in any nook or cranny where he could find protection from the elements. He started landing himself in jail, intentionally, because he found prison accommodations preferable to his homeless haunts.

For years, he was in and out of homelessness. Today, he is focused on the plight of others.

His initiative called Homeless Happens Helping Hands has him provide donated items such as clothing and hygiene products to less fortunate people, including the homeless.

And two months ago, he set out on foot, with a bulky back pack, on a cross-Canada trek to visit as many communities as he can to encourage people to fight back against homelessness.

He told The Guardian Monday as he was making his way around P.E.I. this week he is thrilled with how well his message is getting out.

He is bringing his insightful perspective on homelessness to media, politicians (he would love an audience with P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie) and community groups.

“I want to inspire people, motivate people, just to take care of the people in their community,’’ he says.

“We are all worthy.’’