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Homeless advocate retires from CHAP

Karl Hilgert is retiring as co-leader of CHAP, but you would never know it by the way he talks about the program.

The longtime co-leader of CHAP (Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program), Mr. Hilgert has been at the forefront of helping the city’s homeless population since 2011, working tirelessly to provide assistance to Claremonters in need.

Mr. Hilgert is humble in his accomplishments, preferring to talk about the program and its goals rather than himself.

The program was borne out of the local Occupy movement, when activists camping out in front of city hall realized there were more homeless people in Claremont than they originally thought.

Since co-founding CHAP, Mr. Hilgert has sought to revolutionize the way the homeless are treated, presenting a plan that, “should really rely on doing outreach to homeless peoples themselves and find out what their needs are, rather than trying to come up with a canned program,” he said.

The program gives homeless Claremonters housing, provides a hot meal and gives participants the opportunity to get back on their feet through job training.

At a base level, common terms are changed. People helped by the program are called “participants,” and volunteers are called “advocates.” Soup kitchens are called “CHAP Cafes,” shelters are “overnight accommodation” and transitional housing became the “CHAP House.”

“We tried to change the language,” Mr. Hilgert said. “We want people to have a different sense of who homeless people are.”

Mr. Hilgert personally goes out to help local displaced people make their way to the program. Some enter into it with open arms and are helped by the advocates, while others slip through the cracks. By his estimate, the program helps around six to eight people each year, and has eleven cots available for temporary shelter at the Quaker house on Harrison Avenue.

Mr. Hilgert’s activism runs deep. The ordained United Church of Christ minister and former Yale Divinity School lecturer has helped the less fortunate for decades, going back to his time as the director for Christian Community Action in New Haven, Connecticut.