Homelessness isn’t always a downfall, says poverty advocate

Losing everything you have would be the worst thing to happen to most people, but for Hilary Chapple, becoming homeless gave her the strength to stand back up stronger than ever.

Chapple, 55, moved to Canada from England in 1977 and became a citizen five years later. Her father was from South England and her mother was from Drumheller, Alta.

She became homeless last year when she left an abusive relationship.

“I had to get away,” says Chapple. “I knew I had to do something. I had no money for more rent in Calgary, I had nothing. I sold everything I could on Kijiji.”

Chapple moved to Edmonton for a couple of years, and then lost her home because she couldn’t afford to pay rent.

“I lived in ten separate places,” Chapel recalls. “Couch-surfing. Sometimes with a bed, sometimes not. Living in fear of dropping a crumb on the floor, most of the time my bags are packed; I only had three.”

After a couple of months, Chapple’s misery started coming to an end when she quit her low-paying job at Wal-Mart and her sister helped her move to Mary Dover House in Calgary, which offers transitional housing to women facing homelessness. There, Chapple says she had never felt safer, especially being back in her home city.

“But the one thing we must end is the stigma of homelessness, because that’s what it is. It’s just a stigma.”                – Hilary Chapple

“I felt, wow, I’m home, I’m home, now I can do anything. Bring it on,” she says.

Mary Dover House helped Chapple overcome the problems she faced with counselling. A case manager also provided Chapple with employment opportunities to help her get a job, become more confident in herself and to discover how strong she is.

“I love myself,” she says. “And because I love myself now, somebody else has chosen to love me.”

After the pain of getting over her ex-wife, Chapple picked herself back up and found someone to love and care for.

“She’s a rock star,” Chapple says of her fiancée. “She makes me feel good, she supports everything I do, I told her about this interview: ‘You’re doing it honey! Go get ‘em! Go do it honey! Make a difference!’”

Chapple’s fiancée has supported her through thick and thin, even when Chapple’s sister passed away this summer. She especially supports Chapple’s extensive volunteer work throughout the city.

Although Chapple cannot reveal the name of the organization, she recently got a job involving child services, which pays for her education at Mount Royal University. She works with children who have had traumatic family experiences.

She enrolled at MRU during the winter semester in 2015. Chapple needed more money to continue studying, so she now works full-time to save for the 2016 winter semester.

“I’m studying continuing education in non-profit management,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I love it. And it’s funny, after not being in school for 30 years, my first course I got an A minus! I was really proud of myself,” says Chapple.

One of Chapple’s favourite things to do is get involved with her community. She’s passionate about ending poverty in Calgary.

According to Chapple, on any given night in Canada, the number of homeless people is reported to be approximately 35,000 people a night and around 250,000 people a year.

Chapple says that although Calgary is a wonderful city, it’s not made for the middle class. The city caters to people of a higher socio-economic status, which results in the disparity of wealth between the very rich and very poor.

“All of us in poverty want to be in middle class. We don’t care about high class,” Chapple says. “Middle class, so we can have a nice place to live, comfortable, not too much, little decoration on the wall. That’s all. Not a big deal. It’s not much to ask.”

One issue concerning Chapple lately is Calgary’s economic situation. Her volunteer work to help fight poverty in Calgary has even drawn the attention of City Council, who asked Chapple to speak on behalf of Calgary’s homeless with Mayor Nenshi at the YWCA.

“Mayor Nenshi’s got a great saying,” she says. “‘My neighbour’s strength is my strength. My neighbour’s weakness is my weakness. We’re all in this together.’”

With the recent end of homelessness in Medicine Hat, Chapple believes homelessness can end in Calgary, too.

In Medicine Hat, people who end up homeless can only stay in the shelters or streets there for up to ten days. If they have nowhere else to go, they’re given housing. The program to end homelessness started in April 2009, and they have housed more than 885 people since.

“I would do anything I can to win this. But the one thing we must end is the stigma of homelessness, because that’s what it is. It’s just a stigma,” says Chapple.

Chapple believes homelessness doesn’t have to be a negative as long as you aren’t a negative person. Homelessness caused her to become a positive person and to get through life’s problems step by step.

In fact, she goes as far to say, “the best thing that ever happened to me was becoming homeless.”

The important message that Chapple wants to convey to the public is that homelessness isn’t a downfall. People can choose to be positive in a bad situation, and homelessness is simply a problem that has a solution.

“Homelessness will be beaten,” says Chapple. “You got a lot of people who work in this field, volunteer in this field, who are passionate, dedicated people. They won’t let go, and I’m one of them.”

Although Chapple is still currently homeless, she plans on moving in with her fiancée in January.

The editor responsible for this article is Ashley Grant, agrant@cjournal.ca