Homelessness on display

Published on May 29, 2014
Jason McComb senses that the word homeless makes people uncomfortable. He’s trying to change that by displaying it prominently and engaging in conversation with people as he walks across the country.

As Jason McComb walked from Bible Hill to Pictou County on Wednesday, the sight of a live bunny comforted him. It meant the coyotes hadn’t killed it off, and maybe they wouldn’t come for him.

It wasn’t wild animals McComb that ended his walk that day. It was the lack of medication in his system that would curb his seizures.

Although determined to make it to Pictou that night, he was brought back by ambulance to where he had started the day.

By Thursday morning, he was back on the road, this time by emergency health services transfer.

After he checked in with doctors at the Aberdeen Hospital, he ran across the street when he saw a sign advertising his favourite nectar – coffee.

He acknowledges that his 12-cup-a-day addiction may have contributed to his seizures, as well as his long walk across the country.

If there’s one thing he won’t quit, it is this walk. It will end when he’s dead or done, he says.

“In a couple days, I’m going to be stepping onto the third province and it’s already huge. Am I tired? You bet your life. Am I quitting?” McComb says, shaking his head, while discussing his attempt to engage Canada in a conversation about homelessness.

It started on April Fools Day in St. Thomas, Ontario, a day he chose with purpose.

“There’s a lot of fools out there that don’t realize we’re all worthy.”

McComb hasn’t had it easy, experiencing alcoholism from a young age, and being on the streets throughout his teenage and adult life.

“The abuse, the things that went on – I was going through pain. Booze has numbed it before. That was my Tylenol. I got the headache, (I took) Tylenol,” he said about an experience downing a bottle of Galliano, a liqueur, when he was 12 years old.   

While on this journey, he has no idea where he is going to sleep each night. He’s at the mercy of people’s kindness.

“For the most part, uncertainty sucks. I hate uncertainty. And everyday, as soon as I wake up, uncertainty is there. The only thing I know is I’m walking somewhere. Where that is, I don’t know, and when I’ll get there, I don’t know. If I do get there, where I’ll sleep there. That sucks. That really sucks. That’s the way it is with the homeless. If they have to leave the shelter in the morning, they (think), ‘What am I going to do all day?’”

In Ontario, he runs a resource ‘hub,’ making it his mission to get whatever people need whether it be permanent housing, furniture, or food.

For the next two years, he’s taking his message wherever he can – an initiative that continues to spiral, beginning with a walk to London, Ont., then to Ottawa and now he’s planning to bike across the country after he finishes doing it by foot.

It can be tough for him to make it anywhere because he’s often stopped by people questioning the words on his attire: homeless happens.

It’s those conversations that are the reason he’s making the trip. He know he’s at least inspired one person to help a homeless person find shelter, and that’s enough for him.

Although he’s had many positives including meeting Prince Charles and Camilla, Clara Hughes and the Trailer Park Boys, it’s not without its trials.

He constantly sees reminders of the negative light in which people view those less fortunate, noting a recent visit to a coffee shop when he was questioned about his motives while he bought panhandlers coffee, he said.

“Why are you here? (She asked). Why didn’t she ask the guy behind me? Why didn’t she ask the guy, or woman, in front of me?” he said. “It sucked, watching them panhandle because I discourage it. But it also sucked hearing, ‘get a job,’ and ‘no, you bum.’”

He notes that the attitudes towards the homeless would be considered hateful if it were toward any other group.

“It’s not politically incorrect to say homeless, bum, jobless, street dweller. It’s not politically incorrect to talk about us, to discriminate against us, stereotype us.”

McComb holds his humour about it, displaying his tattooed arm that reads ‘homeless’ when he has the chance.

“A lot of people will look away as soon as they see the word homeless,” he says.

He’s making the word unavoidable.



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