Involving People with Lived Experience at the Table in Meaningful Way

Integrating Persons with Lived Experiences in our Efforts to Prevent and End Homelessness

Individuals with lived experience of homelessness not only have stories to tell about the impact of homelessness on their lives or about how affordable housing and support services helped them stabilize their lives.

They can also give informed and practical advice about how we can more effectively prevent and end homelessness and make smart policies that effect change.
As an example of how lived experiences can positively impact the work to end homelessness, the HUD Exchange shares how the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Special Needs Assistance Program (SNAPS) partnered with young people with lived experiences of homelessness to develop the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP.)  
This partnership began with initial planning and was ongoing through the program’s implementation. Young people identified the key concepts that were included in the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), helped review project applications, and provided technical assistance. 
The HUD Exchange uses the term “meaningful partnerships” when talking about the importance of engaging with people with lived experience in our work to prevent and ending homelessness.  In truly working together, we can learn from each other and work towards effective solutions.  
If most of the decision makers at planning tables come from the “middle class” and may have never struggled to meet their own basic needs, is it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of those experiencing homelessness.  Struggling day to day to find food and a warm spot to spend the night gives you a very different perspective than that of someone who has never known hunger or homelessness.  Lived experience cannot replace understanding or empathy.
The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program interim rule requires the CoC Board to include at least one person with lived experience of homelessness. But is having one person with lived experience enough?  People with lived experience may have had different experiences with homelessness depending on the age, race, and/or disability.  
Experiences with homelessness can differ from person to person.  Having a few people with lived experience or even a whole advisory council that serves as a professional development system for board membership might help form more meaningful work together.  
Any boards, whether they be CoC boards or nonprofit boards, who recruit individuals with lived experience should think about how the experience will be valuable to those individuals.  Individuals with lived experience are like all of us with work and family responsibilities and they also might face challenges around transportation.  The HUD exchange prompts us to think about the following questions:
  • What will people with lived experience gain from their involvement? Will they gain a sense of power to end homelessness? This can bey very important to people that may have felt powerless much of their lives.
  • What will the organization and community gain? 
  • How is their time being compensated and what training and professional development is being offered? More about this below
  • How will their participation lead to changes in policies and priorities?
Some homeless advocates make a strong case for how individuals with lived experience should be compensated financially for their participation whether it be on a board or on a panel at conference workshop.  If you think about it, most professionals working to end homelessness with seats on a board or who are featured on workshop panels take time out of their salaried work week for these activities.  Would they “volunteer” their time outside of work for the same activities that we sometimes ask people with lived experience to volunteer for?  Maybe not.
Could involving people with lived experience at the table in a meaningful way be a resolution that all of us working to end homelessness work to keep in 2020?