A Personal Perspective on Homelessness and Poverty

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, Alberta.

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

“I had to get away. 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 to escape her wife for a couple of years, then lost her home because she couldn’t afford to pay rent. She had to resort to couch-surfing.

“I lived in ten separate places. 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.”

Not only was she homeless, her job at Wal-Mart paid her poorly. In the past year and a half, she lived in ten separate places.

After a couple of months, her misery started coming to an end when she quit her job and Chapple’s sister helped her move to Mary Dover House in Calgary. At Mary Dover house, Chapple says she had never felt safer, especially being back in her home city.

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

Mary Dover House helped Chapple overcome the problems she faced with counseling. 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. 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 up back together and found someone to love and care for.

“She’s a rockstar. 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 (MRU). She works with children who have had traumatic family experiences.

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

“I’m studying Continuing Education in Non-Profit Management. 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 very passionate about ending poverty in Calgary.

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

Chapple even goes to say although Calgary is a wonderful city, it’s not based on middle class. The city caters to people of a higher socio-economic background, 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. 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 poverty in the City has even drawn the attention of the City Council, who asked Chapple to speak on the behalf of Calgary’s homeless with Mayor Nenshi at the YWCA.

“Mayor Nenshi’s got a great saying: ‘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. This 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; that people can choose to be positive in a bad situation and that homelessness is simply a problem that has a solution and we can change the outcome.

“Homelessness will be beaten. 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.” – Sarah Kirk interviewed Hilary Chapple for this story that appeared in the  Calgary Journal in December 2015.

Hilary Chapple is an active community volunteer, poverty reduction and homelessness advocate.

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