Our vendors: Janick Webb (Street Roots, Portland, USA)

By Leonora Ko, Street Roots

Janick Webb is a life coach. It just so happens he is on the street when he practices.

“So many people with mental health problems really should not be on the streets,” he says. “For instance, [one man] finally got housing because of his mental health. But then the next problem is, he’s still digging in the trash can for coffee and cigarettes.

“I buy him coffee and cigarettes every now and then. And I ask him, ‘Why are you doing this? You’ve got Social Security now and housing. Dude, wouldn’t you like to have your own little coffee pot at home? You’d get up in the morning, have your own hot coffee, and have your own little cigarette.

“And he goes, ‘Yeah, that’d be kind of nice.’”

He feels strongly about the lack of care in society and the way homeless people have been stigmatised. He adds, “We need follow-up care for people such as him, so they can have a better life.

“When he comes down and digs in the trash can, people glare at him, like he’s some scum of the Earth. But you know what his problem is? He had to do that for years, and it’s become something that he feels is normal. It’s hard for him to see otherwise.”

Janick admits he would like to help both this man and many others as they transition from homelessness. However due to suffering from episodes of debilitating physical pain, his ability to provide support is limited.

In the past two months, he was taken to hospital by ambulance three times because of the pain. Despite the challenges, he doesn’t dwell on his health issues and stays positive.

“Once a pain episode is over and done with, it’s time to go back and enjoy life again,” he says. “I stay positive by recognising the negatives first. Get those out of the way, and figure out how to change the things you can change. The ones you can’t change, you can’t do anything about those. So move on from there.”

One of the benefits of selling Street Roots near City Hall is that Janick has opened some minds. He has got to know some of the City Council members and has discussed housing issues.

He often uses the word “fortunate” to describe himself. But he could definitely add “a positive attitude” to the mix.

Janick moved to Portland 17 years ago for the same lifestyle reasons many migrate to the area for.

“I like the outdoors,” he explains. “I spent my time hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, you name it. I would take off as much as I could during the summer months, travel around and hit all the national parks.”

“I did everything right – no drugs, no alcohol, no criminal history. I had a year’s worth of rent saved up, and I still ran into problems”

Janick sold educational products to schools and subbed for managers at Plaid Pantry stores across the region. Both jobs gave him the funds and flexibility to travel. “I did everything I ever wanted to do,” he says, “with no lying, no cheating. I had a very good, moral lifestyle, and on top of that, I really enjoyed myself.

“And so, when you’re in a circumstance like I am now, where you can’t really do that much, I’m sitting here going, ‘You know what? Been there, done that.’”

A few years ago, Janick began to experience severe nerve problems that struck without warning. The pain prompted him to stop working in 2012. “I call them my 10-plus episodes because they are so bad,” he says. “On a recent Sunday, they had to haul me away in an ambulance, and I’m literally sitting there, screaming.”

“I did everything right – no drugs, no alcohol, no criminal history. I had a year’s worth of rent saved up, and I still ran into problems.”

Janick found a housesitting job to bridge the gap until an opening became available at a shelter. After several months on a waiting list, he got into Transition Projects Doreen’s Place, a temporary shelter for men.

But permanent housing was tougher to find. Over a month, Janick researched online to find low-income housing and came up with a plan.

“I started calling all over New Mexico for housing because of the weather and shorter waiting lists,” he says. “My top three choices were Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Truth or Consequences. I literally had to call every single building about whether they were accepting applications. In Albuquerque, I called 65 different buildings.

“When it hurts to talk and spend that many hours on the phone, I can’t tell you how awful that was. I would literally go to the courtyard and scream in pain, and come back in and do some more.”

Janick’s hard work and smart thinking paid off when an opening was found in the New Mexico spa city, Truth or Consequences.

He says working with Street Roots saved him. With his newspaper earnings, Janick was able to pay for his phone, buy stamps to send applications, put down a security deposit for his new place and pay for transportation to New Mexico.

“I’m not even sure how I got that lucky, honestly,” Janick says with a delighted laugh. “It really should not have happened. I’m in love with it.

“The nice thing about Street Roots is I was able to go out there at the times I was feeling better and make enough to do all of what I needed,” he adds. “Because if I didn’t have that money, I wouldn’t be able to do the housing.”