I am a poet who has lived a fulfilled life. Now I live in the shelter system.

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During the year 2021, Willi Boepple has sent over a dozen emails to Wide view magazine. The letters told about life in the homeless shelters and the people she met. Then, as the letters progressed, she shared stories from her own life.

Willi Boepple is a homeless advocate in British Columbia. She started living in shelters in her late fifties. She has worked in a sawmill, has a certificate in the operation and maintenance of boilers, turbines and other electrical generating machinery, and has been a goat farmer for decades. She is a recognized expert in the breeding and nutrition of dairy goats. She is also a published poet.

Boepple is an accomplished person who lives in shelters in and around Victoria. This article is an account of his history and his vision of the world, taken from his numerous letters to this magazine.

This homeless problem is huge and complex. Why is it legal for a rich man to get richer by exchanging real estate or money? What good does it do for society? As farmers and nurses find themselves homeless? Boys who play video games well get millions of dollars, while teachers end up on the streets.

Our society is crazy.

The general assumption is that it was not economic factors that caused our plight, but rather the fault of the homeless ourselves. We are all either lazy, irresponsible, mentally ill or addicted to drugs. No one wants to believe that honest, sober, civic and hardworking people can lose their homes and end up on the streets.


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I met a man who was homeless because he had cancer and was too sick to work. Suffering from chemo, he would lie on the sidewalk during the daily three hours of eviction from shelters. I met a woman who had been repeatedly raped by her own father. Despite this, she told me that she had never taken hard drugs until she became homeless and ended up in a shelter.

At the end of January 2019, I found myself in a women’s shelter where we had to leave every morning and couldn’t come back for at least eight o’clock, maybe because there was a daycare next door and the anxious parents didn’t want to. not that their children see us hateful homeless.

It was a “dry” refuge, and it was my first real exposure to drug addicts. The nights would be torn apart by the cries and moans of women in need. Having just lost my herd of goats and left the forest, I was completely out of my element; my initial reaction was to try to help women, but many were also mentally ill and yelled at.

Willi boepple. (Photo by Nik West)

A woman was drinking both alcohol and drugs. We take our hat off to him. In the morning, she announced sullenly: “Day 13! And we would all applaud; the next day, “Day 14! And we would applaud. One morning, shortly before leaving the shelter, this woman and I sat on the edge of her cot. With tears in her eyes, she told me that once she was sure her daughter and granddaughter were safe, she was going to overdose.

“Don’t you think your grandchildren will want to know who you are? ” I asked. But that was all I could really say, just a few weeks ago I tried to hang myself. Who wants to be old and homeless? I understood it perfectly.

I lost everything that was important to me in my daily life. I have no family in Canada. My goats were my family. We had a deep and telepathic connection. I had friends and a community; I had a place I belonged to. Now it’s all gone. I submit that I cannot be expected to be optimistic, and it is a little miracle that I am still alive. I’m doing my best to get out of my head. I wrote this poem in February:

ERASURE

Step by step

Pieces fall

some in large pieces dripping

drenched in warm heart blood

some long and thin

like the steel of my independence

falling like a broken bone,

one kind and once, close

like the shared breath of loved ones,

torn from the winter wind, to disappear,

and some, like place,

too numb with shock to hurt

in increasingly empty spaces

of my fall,

my erasure.


I am 62 years old. My life has never been easy. There has always been sexism in my job, with the resulting poverty and physical hardship. I lived 22 years on my way to my herd, 19 years without running hot water, 13 years without a telephone, 12 years in a motorhome and six and a half years without even electricity or running water. I can film my own dinner and cook it. I also grew up in Japan, I speak three languages ​​and I was thrown stones for my hair color. My life has been varied and difficult, but also very picturesque. I grew up running in forests and hills. For our rural education, I will always be deeply grateful to my mother, who herself suffered a lot in her childhood.


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I used to be called frequently enough to take care of sick cattle when a vet was not available. I have done everything from recovering the stranded children to humane euthanasia, to the autopsy and diagnosis of the problem. In 2006, I was asked to give a few guest lectures at the University of Victoria on ethnoveterinary medicine. I have successfully tampered with everything from chickens and ducks to horses and cattle. I am self-taught in trace element nutrition in dairy goats and have responded to requests for help from commercial producers as far away as New Zealand and Ecuador.

Having first milked goats at the age of 12, I started my own herd of Saanens registered in 1985 with the purchase of a butcher doe and her daughter. I figured anyone with money can buy a fancy, high-end animal, but it takes a breeder to make one! From that doe with swollen knees, fat, non-milky, infected with arthritis and caprine encephalitis (but I loved it), I built a herd of productive, disease-free, long-lasting goats. life, with four great permanent champions among them and three who won the highest honor in Canada for a doe: Select status.

Willi Boepple. (Photo by Nik West)

In 2018 my wealthy landlord kicked me out and sold his farm. Now that my beloved flock is gone, I have nothing left to live on. I exist among the hardened drug addicts in an urban shelter where I am not allowed to have a kettle in case I burn down the building. Since I have never even smoked weed, this environment is profoundly foreign to me, and the past three years have not made it one iota more bearable. People “shoot” or smoke heroin right outside my bedroom window.

It’s traumatic just to be in these shelters; for a rural person it’s like suddenly finding yourself on a strange dirty and evil planet. No wonder some people start using drugs after becoming homeless.

I apologize for being so gloomy. I really haven’t always been like this. I like goats, for their spirit. They are open, curious, intelligent and original. If there is a molecule of pleasure to be found in a given situation, you can count on the goat to find it. The goat, after running around a bit in the midst of lush greenery, will suddenly leap into the air and kick the heels just for the fun of it. Their joy is contagious.

I used to take the Hairy Lot long distances; Sometimes we would go up Lone Tree Hill, near Saanich Inlet, on the east side. The goats walked to the edge of a vertiginous fall and looked out; you could feel their deep joy at being so high, something innate to all goats. So they would jump madly and cavort.

As I wrote in a song:

Over the cove, among the spinning goats,

Jump to the rhythm of dancing clogs on the foam;

Watching the eagle’s back as she flies down,

Listening to the crow’s call – KWOW!

falling in the wind!

I like to play this song on my guitar. Sometimes I yodel (I’m Swiss). Here’s a poem from the happy years in the little cabin on Pease Hill on Vancouver Island:

NIGHT ON THE RIDGE

Light and shadow patterns

Trees and other trees

touched in places by moonlight

Stay still;

black limbs go through the night

interlacing

with a maze of shadows on the ground.

Spirits are rushing,

vigilant,

and down through the valley

beyond the glowing foam

an owl begins to call.

The trees are expiring.

I throw my head, burning

where the horns of the night grow,

the joy of the goat sets in;

the spine unwinds

and I’m going,

dancing through the luminous canvas

of nested worlds.


When I can stand, I go to the weekly bingo at the shelter, and if I win any coffee gift cards, I give them to an aspiring horticulturalist who is homeless. In the street since he left the foster home, he is addicted, no doubt to drown despair. I watch him scratch in the polluted earth, trying to start a vegetable garden. This kid just wants to be a farmer. It breaks my heart.

The last time I checked everyone is eating. If I had a farm, I would take it in a minute; clean it up, get it its own cottage and its own garden. And the vegetables won’t howl if you don’t process them at 7am!

One day as I was sitting at bingo, I thought of the leafy green light moving in the forest, and I couldn’t help but a tear slipping down my cheek. An employee came over and asked if I wanted another bingo card. She thought that was why I was crying.

***

Willi boepple describes herself as “a longtime farmer, seed breeder, naturalist, writer, illustrator, hunter, steam engineer, curmudgeon and unmarried old maid.”

This story first appeared in Wide view ‘s December 2021 issue entitled “Falling Away”.


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