The remains of a camp for a few homeless people on the Trans-Canada Highway across from DeMille’s Farm Market sits dismantled on Feb. 12 with the piles of trees cleared from the land behind it. The people staying there were told to leave during the week of Feb. 4 on the order of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure so the land could be prepared for the upcoming four-laning highway project. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Five years ago, homeless man ‘had everything’

Shuswap man talks about need to remember homeless people had better lives

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…”

Related: Homeless tenters must move for four-laning preparation

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.

He enjoyed lots of mountain biking and camping and was stronger, much more muscular.

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.

Related: Nearly 8,000 homeless in B.C., first province-wide count reveals

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. Some days, like this one, his fingers get too cold to play. Three months ago, his guitar broke.

“My friend gave me a new one. People are really awesome.”

Well, some people. Webber says strangers will look at him like he’s evil or sick.

“Like I’m diseased. It’s almost impossible to rent a place as everyone sees me as being homeless.”

“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 says he’s been sober for 15 years and stayed away from drugs for 17, but has indulged in drugs in the last two years to try to ease the pain of being homeless.

Related: Street life taking its toll

He thinks the solution to his and many other people’s predicament is simple. More housing. Affordable housing.

Often people don’t understand, he says. They just assume he can work and he’s fine.

“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 during the interview, 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 are criminals “and they make it bad for all of us.”

But not the majority.

“Think about who we were, not who we are. At one point we had good lives.”

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.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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