Walking for Canada’s Homeless

I’ve said before that one of my favourite parts of my job is that every so often, I get to meet someone who is inspiring, someone who challenges me to continue pursuing my dream of being a life-changer and a history maker. These people come in all shapes and forms, and from all walks of life, and on Monday morning, one of them walked into my office.

 

I was called over by one of my co-workers who had been speaking to someone at the front desk (I am on the other side of the office, and can’t see). She said that he had mentioned something about walking for the homeless, so I grabbed a sticky note and a pen and walked over.

 

When I saw him, my immediate thought was that he was homeless. Slightly dirty clothes, a large travellers back-pack on his back, and his 5 o’clock shadow was quickly progressing towards a 42 hour shadow. My curiousity was immediately piqued, and I introduced myself.

 

Jason McComb, a former resident of my town, is a man who is slowly changing the stigma and stereotypes towards the homeless, literally one step at a time. I spent only about 20 minutes with him having coffee as he shared his story, and by the end of our chat, my mind was blown.

 

Although Jason currently has no fixed address as far as a residence goes, he doesn’t feel as though he is homeless. He has been on the streets multiple times – some to do with trouble at home when he was younger, others for reasons that were far out of his control. A number of years ago, he was hit by a car as a pedestrian, and suffered a number of breaks and severe brain damage. While he has regained much of his cognitive abilities, in 2009 he started suffering from strokes as a result of the brain injury.

 

But none of that has stopped him from trying to make a difference. He moved to St. Thomas a few years ago, where he launched a non-profit organization called Homeless Happens, Helping hands. In early Spring, he decided that he wanted to do more and came up with the idea to walk across the entire country raising awareness for homelessness.

 

That’s right, to walk the entire country. For those of who who are unfamiliar with the layout of Canada, it is massive. It takes over 4 days to drive across the country, straight, without doing any of the detours through the provinces that Jason is doing.

 

“Essentially, people need to know that homelessness is an epidemic,” he explained to me. “Not just in Canada, but everywhere. It can happen to anybody no matter what their status in society is, their job title or the lack-thereof.”

 

To give you an idea of how long this is going to take, Jason left the Terry Fox Memorial in Newfoundland on April 16. He then journeyed through all our smallest provinces (the rest of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia), passed through Quebec, and made it into  our little town in Southwestern Ontario on Monday (August 25). As of this coming Monday, it will have been exactly five months since he first left his home on April 1 to walk from St. Thomas to Queen’s Park in Toronto to meet with his MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) regarding the journey.

 

“There has never been a time where homelessness was needed,” he said. “Homelessness has always been needless. Unfortunately, it exists, and these people that are already cast aside are cast further aside. They are further oppressed after already being oppressed and further hurt for being part of a hurting demographic. I hate seeing the abuse that takes place.”

 

Save for a couple instances where he had no choice but to catch a ride due to weather, a stroke and a situation where the RCMP had to close the highway while a manhunt was underway, he has walked the entire way.

 

Let’s stop and think about this for a second. Nearly five months straight. Of walking. Day and night, night and day. And the craziest part? He’s not accepting donations, monetary or otherwise. He was very adamant that people understand this is not a fundraiser in any way, shape or form, adding that it would be wrong for him to accept money that would go back to his own non-profit that services only his town.

 

He has tattooed across his arms ‘Homeless Happens’ and makes it a habit to open doors for people with the ‘homeless’ side showing. He finds that often, as soon as people see the tattoo, they refuse to look at him and sometimes to even acknowledge that he is there. Sometimes, he’ll say to them ‘Don’t look, you might feel’. He admits that it can be rather condescending, but it drives the point home.

 

It may be a little too much, but then again, some of the biggest earth shakers, history makers and life changers challenged their opposition loudly and by making them uncomfortable. Martin Luther King did that on a regular basis. He hit it home, time and time again. Jesus (whether you believe in him as the Messiah or just a man) constantly made people uncomfortable by challenging their hypocrisy and making them stand above their laurels. Change doesn’t happen so long as people are comfortable where they sit.
“If people think that someone wants to be homeless, it’s because something is broken in that person. Something has gone incredibly wrong and they’re too afraid to move past what they’ve become conditioned to.”
Part of the problem, according to Jason, is that people do believe homeless need help, but many seem to have this idea that there are a lot of people who want to stay out on the streets, and so therefore, they are unable to be helped.

 

“Nobody wants to stay homeless,” he scoffed, shaking his head. “If it appears that way, it’s because they’ve been conditioned to find comfort in their situation by their situation. As humans, we are conditioned by our surroundings. We’re conditioned to adapt to a bed and a room when it’s time to leave the crib, and we’re conditioned to find comfort in our surroundings.”

 

“If people think that someone wants to be homeless, it’s because something is broken in that person. Something has gone incredibly wrong and they’re too afraid to move past what they’ve become conditioned to.”

 

Jason added that everybody judges, it’s part of human nature. But what everyone does not have the right to do is impose that judgement on someone. And that’s true. The old phrase ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ that we’re taught in our early school days rings true in all situations, including homelessness. We don’t know their stories, we don’t know why they are on the streets, what led them there, and why they can’t get back on their feet. Assuming a reason without taking the time to find out it’s truth is dangerous and damaging.

 

Those assumptions we make tend to lead to the dehumanization of the homeless. We no longer see them as someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother. They’re faceless, and interchangeable with the next person we encounter. But they shouldn’t be.

 

“I often hear John Lennon in my head, and his song Imagine,” said Jason. “He was a great visionary, but unfortunately we’re still in an age where that peace hasn’t taken place. That’s not to say that it can’t.”

 

If only one thing comes of Jason’s journey, he hopes that it’s that people are driven to take action, to do more than leave it to the shelters, who can only do so much. He hopes that it inspires members of the government, people of the communities he passes through to step forward, step up, and start fighting to bring lives back to the people who have lost them, for one reason or another.

 

Jason blew my mind on Monday. He shook the foundations where I stand and left me feeling challenged to start standing up and fighting to make a difference on the things that I am passionate about. But he also left me feeling honoured, and feeling humbled. Jason is filled with humility that exceeds anyone I have ever encountered. He constantly passes off the credit, and instead redirects that attention to his purpose. He is strong, he is bold, and he is brave. And I have no doubt in my mind that this man, whom so many would overlook on any given day, is going to make a difference in Canada.

 

To follow Jason’s journey, check him out on Twitter or on Facebook.

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