Once upon a better time, life was good for Greg Webber.
Now, a typical day means: “Try to find a job, try to find money, try to find heat, try to find food, try to find a place to live.”
Webber was camping at the west end of Salmon Arm until a couple of weeks ago when he, like several other people without homes, was told to move to make room for land clearing the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure wanted to do in preparation for a four-laning project on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Thanks to caring members of the community, he and a few others were provided with rooms at the Travelodge in Salmon Arm, while temperatures hovered around -15 C and lower.
“It’s a blessing, it really is,” he said of the respite in the motel. “I needed a break. I lost hope…”
Up until five years ago, Webber had two jobs – as a mechanic and in silviculture, was paying a mortgage on a house in Penticton, and he and his sister had two rentals. He had a long-standing marriage and two children.
Then, five years ago, he suffered a stroke, probably connected to being struck by a vehicle when he was just 17.
“I had everything, but I had to sell it all.”
Webber didn’t get disability insurance for a long time but was able to survive while he and his spouse were living together.
But then they split up.
“Very tough,” is how he describes the break, pointing out they had been together for nearly three decades.
Now, he can’t find a place to live he can afford, and can’t find a job – not even part-time, as he was left with some difficulty forming words clearly as well as having daily seizures following the stroke.
“Whenever an employer hears that I have seizures, that’s it, interview’s over. I get all the luck — it’s like the lottery backwards,” he says, his sense of humour still intact. “I get the rarest form of seizures. It’s similar to narcolepsy.”
To earn money, he tries to busk every day, playing guitar.
Webber says strangers will look at him like he’s evil or sick.
“But I see a lot of good in other people now,” he continues. “I used to look at (homeless) people the same way others do. Until it happened to me. It’s what I deserve I guess.”
He thinks the solution to his and many other people’s predicament is simple. Affordable housing.
Often people don’t understand, he says.
“They have no idea. Some guy will come and argue with me, tell me I could get a job, be a Walmart greeter. But what do I do when I pass out?”
Although he speaks openly about his situation, he does not want to have his photo taken. And not because he’s shy.
“I want all homeless people treated well, not just me. We all had lives… I want them to wonder who it is. It could be that guy on the corner.”
“Everybody who’s homeless, they’re in a different situation but they are all great people. They’d give you the shirt off their back.”
He concedes that some homeless people are bad “and they make it bad for all of us.”
But not the majority.
And he has a reminder for people who believe it could never happen to them.
“Everybody is just a cheque or two away from being homeless.”