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Local senior turns homelessness into adventure

Sharon Wingenback is a bicyclist, a ballroom dancer, a hiker, a cohouser and a zoomer. She is also homeless. It wasn't that she didn't have a good life. She married, had children and worked as a technical writer for a large corporation in Calgary. Yes, she and her husband separated. It was not a perfect life – but she was managing just fine.

Sharon Wingenback is a bicyclist, a ballroom dancer, a hiker, a cohouser and a zoomer.

She is also homeless.

It wasn't that she didn't have a good life. She married, had children and worked as a technical writer for a large corporation in Calgary. Yes, she and her husband separated. It was not a perfect life - but she was managing just fine.

Then, just before retirement, a series of events happened that left her without a place to live.

First she was laid off when twenty-five percent of her company was downsized. She was 64 and a half years old. Thankfully, she had a package - and was ready for retirement anyway.

She decided to sell her house in Bridgeland in a joint venture with a developer. The developer would knock down the house, build a duplex and she would receive her money when the property sold.

Meanwhile, Sharon signed up to buy into a smaller complex that would be ready to move into in about nine months. She had nine months to look after herself.

However, after she moved out of her house, the smaller complex folded - leaving her without a home. Period. Furthermore, it would be at least two years before she would get the money from the sale of her house.

That's when Sharon decided to turn it into an adventure.

Friends went to Hawaii for three weeks. Sharon housesat.

Another friend went away for two weeks. Sharon looked after the cats.

She spent time being a grandmother to her new granddaughter. She attended her son's graduation in Vancouver, and spent a couple weeks on the sunshine coast.

Then she took five weeks to travel from Vancouver to Calgary with her bike and her tent in the back of her car. She'd camp in various places and explore on bicycle, meeting other bikers and campers along the way.

She also went cycling in Europe, a trip that cost less than $3000, including airfare. It wasn't about cathedrals or museums or cities. It was about her passion for cycling - something she had developed as a child, and later put away, because in her day young ladies did not cycle. Luckily she had picked it up again at age 24 when she realized she needed a way to stay fit.

In her words, she sees it as having been given the gift of time. Time to try a little of this. Time to try a little of that. Time to try on different lifestyles and see what she wants for herself and her future.

"I've been learning by what people do in their homes," she says. "One place I stayed had a really nice broom. A lot of people have crappy brooms, but there was joy in this broom."

How can other seniors find and enjoy similar adventures without becoming homeless?

"There are three things we need," she says. "We need health, we need finances, and we need a passion. You can't control 100% of your health, but you can control quite a bit.

"With finances, if you don't have enough, you look at how you can cut your costs to get up in the morning."

For Sharon, that meant parting with a lifetime of possessions - not only her house, but also most of her things. She started with selling one item on Kijiji. And then another.

"Kijiji became my friend."

And what about the passion?

"You have to find out what puts a smile on your face. It might be cats. For me, it's not cats - it's cycling."

Essentially, she's discovered me-time, something most of us don't get enough of over a lifetime of raising children and building careers.

"It's about finding out what do I want, what do I like, what am I going to do?" she says. "Later when I settle down and the house is sold, I will choose another property. Then I intend to expand my world and give back.

"For now I am taking care of me."





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