'Everyone has a story;' Man on homeless trek across Canada

The Starphoenix,  September 16, 2015 - Huddled on a park bench in the middle of the night, Jason McComb had second thoughts about his decision to visit Saskatoon. The fall air was cool, and he shivered under his sleeping bag.

The 38-year-old has been walking across Canada with nothing more than a wheeled buggy and a few sleeping bags, trying to make people think about homelessness.

For most of the trip, he has relied on the kindness of strangers to help him through, but on that park bench overlooking a Saskatoon freeway, he felt the social isolation many homeless people experience daily. "The stigma sucks. Not all homeless people are stupid, lazy, trouble makers, drinkers, drug addicts," McComb said.

He has been homeless on and off for the past 22 years, starting in high school, when his mother and stepfather left him to his own devices. He ended up sleeping in the boiler room of his high school until he was found out. Then he started getting himself arrested just so he could have a safe place to sleep and a warm meal.

Decades later, McComb runs a non-profit homeless resource centre in St. Thomas, Ontario called Homeless Happens Helping Hands. The walk across Canada, he says, is to help raise awareness about the struggles many people go through in a quest for adequate housing.

"Homeless comes in varying degrees. There are varying reasons for it," he said. His most recent leg of the walk began on June 1. He arrived in Saskatoon earlier this week. McComb said the walk is less of a coast-tocoast journey and more of a zigzag as he tries to reach as many communities and as many people as possible.

It hasn't always been easy.

He was beaten up in Nova Scotia last year, chased by coyotes in Prince Edward Island and threatened by people in Sudbury, he said.

Most recently, a man physically removed him from a hotel in Wynyard.

"He said, 'This is private property. This is not a place for the homeless.' He just didn't understand," Mc-Comb recalled.

Once he arrived in Saskatoon, he spent the day in a Tim Hortons restaurant. After running out of money, he made his way to a park bench to sleep for the night. Then someone told him about Laura's Lodge, a small hotel on College Drive where he found shelter from the cold and the unwelcoming feeling he was getting in the province, he said.

"He showed up at our doorstep, so to speak," said Laura's Lodge owner Gordon Hirschfeld.

He decided to give Mc-Comb a room for two nights free of charge, hoping it will be enough to help him get back on his feet and back on the road.

"I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. I wouldn't want to be homeless," Hirschfeld said.

McComb said he is eternally grateful that the free stay saved him from another night sleeping in the cold.

He plans to get his bicycle sent to Saskatchewan so he can continue his journey and clock more kilometres a day. He hopes to dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean before the journey is over, he said.

His goal is not to raise money, but he does want people to think twice when they pass someone on the street who looks homeless, McComb said.

"Everyone has a story, and there is a story behind that story."

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