Ontario man walking across the country to raise awareness about homelessness

Diane Crocker dcrocker@thewesternstar.com
Published on May 3, 2014
Jason McComb spent a couple of days in Corner Brook this week as he makes his way across the country to raise awareness about homelessness.
Star photo by Diane Crocker

Sleeping in a shed, an abandoned vehicle on the highway or in a hotel all run the gamut of what a homeless person can experience.

That’s the experience Jason McComb, 37, is trying to shed light on.

The St. Thomas, Ont., man is on a cross-country walk to raise awareness about homelessness. He arrived in Corner Brook on Wednesday night and spent until this morning sharing the story of his life and what he hopes to accomplish with anyone who’d listen.

“My goal is to reach people and hopefully let them see that if I can do this ... they can do just a little something, even if that’s (to) just stop hurting people,” said McComb at the Comfort Inn on Friday morning.

McComb said the hurt comes in the judgement, the stigma and the stereotyping that homeless people experience.

“I want people to talk. I want them to talk about issues that are going on, and if they talk enough, things are done about it.”

He started his journey in St. John’s on April 16 and plans to stop in as many communities as he can as he heads for Victoria, B.C. He doesn’t have a set goal for when he’d like to reach his destination, and really didn’t plan for much beyond getting to Newfoundland.

The lack of planning fits in well with the experience of being homeless, something that’s happened to him many times over the last 21 years.

“I didn’t plan for that,” he said of the first time he found himself on the street as a teenager.

Nor did he plan for the most recent experience when he was released from hospital to find his landlord had evicted him and got rid of his belongings.

McComb receives a disability income due to a brain injury and was in the process of writing a book about homelessness when that occurred. He put the book to the side.

“I started raising awareness for the less fortunates’ rights.”

He started by visiting nine cities for a week at a time. But during the couple of months that he was homeless, McComb thought that he could be doing more.

First he planned to open a business to raise money for homeless people, but then he changed his mind and founded Homeless Happens Helping Hands. The name is tattooed on his arms, and his shirt and hat bear the words “Homeless Happens.”

The organization is aimed at helping homeless people by taking items people no longer want or need and giving them to someone who does need them.

“My hands were idle, so I thought I’ll go to these people and put my hands out for it and put it in their hands free of charge.

“I don’t give hand outs, I give hand ups,” he said.

The organization, which operates out of a storefront in St. Thomas, is funded out of his disability income and the small salary he receives for cleaning up litter.

But that’s not all he did. McComb also started walking to raise that awareness, the first couple times from St. Thomas to London — a distance about 35 kilometres — and later to Ottawa, about 900 km.  

He felt if he could do that then he had the ability to make it across the country.

McComb’s not asking for donations along the way, but will gladly accept a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.

When needed, he’s “dumpster dived” to get by.

“Otherwise I’m going without,” he said

He’s had some accommodations donated, including from the hotel in Corner Brook, but has also slept wherever he could find cover. He also has a cellphone that was donated to him to keep him connected and for emergencies.

“I’m living a gypsy homeless life.”

McComb plans to go as far as Stephenville today and will also visit a few other communities in that area. He figures it could take him the better part of a year to complete his trek.

Once he reaches Victoria, he plans to cycle back to St. John’s.

Follow Jason McComb on Twitter @HomelessMcjason