A mom of two cats and two kids, Julie Chapman would take everyone under her wing for protection, if she could
Altruism and activism
Sporting her signature good-natured grin, Julie “Jewel” Chapman expertly steers her shiny blue scooter through the twists and turns of a Downtown Eastside (DTES) offce space and takes her spot at the table.
It’s clear this woman knows her way around.
Jewel was born and raised in Kitsilano, but she’s spent most of her adult life in the DTES.
“I’m dating myself now, but I was part of the Woodward’s Squat,” Jewel says, her bright yellow hoodie a striking contrast to her jet-black straight hair.
The Woodward’s Squat was a three-month tent-city-turned- protest in 2002 expressing outrage at the lack of social housing in Vancouver. The new Woodward’s development project subsequently included more than 100 community housing units for people with low incomes.
Jewel is no stranger to activism. She’s a support worker for SWUAV (Sex Workers United Against Violence), and is involved with the B.C. Association for People on Methadone and the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
Through SWUAV, Jewel strives to educate those surviving through sex work about the dangers of the streets.
“There’s so many young ladies, young girls really, in unsafe positions... fresh out of wherever they come from. If I could take them all under my wing, I would,” she says. “They’re beautiful, they have their wits about them, but that won’t last.”
She says there are “way too many young girls out here,” with some as young as 14 years old.
In her experience, Jewel says nearly 100 per cent of those turning to sex work have been sexually abused as children.
As part of her work with SWUAV, Jewel distributes “bad date” sheets and red alerts about known violent offenders or suspicious people who seek to prey on the vulnerable.
A mother of two grown sons and a pet owner, Jewel also takes care of her own family.
“I have two kids and two cats, and I don’t know which ones are messier,” she says wryly.
A hairdresser by trade, Jewel has been a Megaphone vendor since 2003, selling magazines, books and calendars in Gastown near the steam clock.
She also knows her way around the water, working as a lifeguard at Kits pool in her younger years.
“I’ve always been a strong swimmer,” she says.
A creative soul at heart, Jewel is a self-taught pianist who first started playing at age 12. She’s also a prolific writer (published many times in Megaphone’s magazine and Voices
of the Street literary anthology), who sometimes sets her poems to music.
She says she feels at home in the DTES, saying there is no other community like it.
And she has a message for those outside the DTES who are dismissive of its residents and the formidable challenges they face.
“Stop acting like it’s not their problem. It is their problem,” says Jewel, adding the two most pressing issues are the lack of a ordable housing and “killer drugs.”
“I’ve never seen it like this,” she says.
She also offers encouragement to those within the neighbourhood. “A lot of people frown upon the Downtown Eastside. They say there’s no hope,” she says. “There have been times I thought that, but the people are what make up this beautiful community, and they’re strong. I’ve never felt defeated.”
Vancouver vendor Julie Chapman wells Megaphone in Gastown, usually by the steam clock.
To find a vendor near you, and to buy Megaphone through your smartphone, download the Megaphone app.