Michael Wood, O'Brien Institute for Public Health
May 30, 2018
How Calgary's homeless live, die, survive and thrive on city streets
Homelessness. The thought of it keeps Hilary Chapple up at night.
Having lived it for 755 days as one among the “hidden homeless” — those not captured by counts of vulnerable populations — she knows the pain, the uncertainty, the fear.
“I didn’t get why I was in so much pain until I got into a homeless shelter,” the 58-year-old says. “I was being re-traumatized over and over again because I was being judged.”
It was at the YWCA where Chapple’s healing began. She now has a new love, a dog, a cat, a yard — and no more macaroni.
“I can’t stand the stuff,” she says.
It’s a lived experience that fuels Chapple, an LGBTQ activist and homeless advocate who works with several organizations including the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Client Action Committee, helping to drive change for at-risk populations.
She was one among dozens of community members, care providers and agency representatives who came together for Living, Dying, Surviving and Thriving: Working Together to Improve the Lives of People Experiencing Homelessness. The forum was hosted by Street CCRED (Community Capacity in Research, Education, and Development), which operates with support from the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement portfolio at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), and in partnership with many community service providers.
The event was an opportunity for key players on the front line and those working in research to connect, share knowledge and identify new opportunities to work together to better serve the more than 3,000 people who are experiencing homelessness in Calgary at any given time.
Victoria Burns, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work at UCalgary and a member of the O’Brien Institute. Burns and her colleagues are working with Chapple and a diverse group of older Calgarians with homeless histories on a project called Beyond Housing. They hope to bring awareness to the issue of older homelessness, challenge stereotypes and give hope to those who suffer in silence.
Networking events like Street CCRED’s are incredibly important, says Burns.
“We can work in silos; even in my faculty I don’t necessarily know what all my colleagues are doing. And here in Calgary there’s a lot of great work being done around homelessness,” she says.
One tangible silo-busting example is a new initiative by the Drop-In and Rehab Centre (DI), which is building a more comprehensive web of support including expanded housing and health services.
Currently engaged with Street CCRED and the Calgary Allied Mobile Palliative Program (CAMPP), the DI is developing a respite unit that will provide health supports and transitionary care to clients experiencing homelessness or those who are at risk.
“We really want to open our building to other service providers to build partnerships to best serve our shared clients. This is why we appreciate Street CCRED so much — they bring the providers and researchers together to make this happen,” says Natalie Noble, director of programs and housing at the DI.
“Street CCRED and other groups have come in and designed the respite program for us. We’re advising, and it’s a very different way of doing business, but we said, ‘You guys come into our building and provide us the vision and the strategy,’ which has never been done before.”
Bonnie Larson, MD, a family physician, director of the Street CCRED collaborative, and a member of the O’Brien Institute, says networking events give people on the frontlines not only a chance to connect and share knowledge, but also to breathe.
“An event like today is protected time for us to talk to each other and support each other — one of the things we can’t quantify are the relationships and support we offer each other, so it’s high-value stuff,” she says.
“And I’m confident it trickles down to improving our health and social system, and getting patients better care.”