It is a perennial challenge within services who work with people experiencing homelessness: How do we ensure that the service users themselves have a say in the running of our service? Many different models have been used, from having users on boards, to having advisory groups, to just crossing-fingers and hoping people participate. Either way, there is a sense of ‘nothing for us, without us’ as being ideal.
The London Homeless Coalition serves as an information sharing body for homeless services in London, Ontario. For the past number of years, there has been a striking lack of people with lived experiences of homelessness serving on the coalition. This as not so surprising however, as experience shows us that within the ‘us/them’ dichotomy, unless we are strategic in thinking about inclusion, it will not happen. The way we tend to do business simply fails to fit the reality of the lives of most people experiencing homelessness. So, at recent Coalition meetings there has been discussion as to how to integrate more street-level voices.
Suggestions I had an issue with included:
- Inviting people every month to come and tell their stories. This smacks of exploitation.
- Maybe we just need a different location for the meetings. However, if people value them, and we are already meeting downtown, it’s not likely the location that is of issue.
- Perhaps we need to provide food and bus tickets, or other incentives. Although this would likely work, bribing people is not a great way to build meaningful participation.
- We need to find permanent members to commit to the coalition. Although this would be nice, it’s pretty ‘pie in the sky’.