Redesigning the federal homelessness program: engaging people with lived experience of homelessness

As part of the engagement process on the redesign of Canada’s homelessness program, Employment and Social Development Canada engaged directly with people with lived experience of homelessness. Dedicated tools and mechanisms were developed to ensure the meaningful participation of people with lived experience, the removal and mitigation of financial barriers to engagement and recognition of the unique expertise and knowledge of people with lived experience.

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Establishing people with lived experience as a priority for engagement

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) committed to engage a wide range of stakeholders, including people with lived experience of homelessness, to inform the redesign of the federal homelessness program.

In February 2017, the Government of Canada launched a public Call for Nominations to create an Advisory Committee on Homelessness. The Committee intended to help guide the redesign of the federal homelessness program. There was a clear intention from the Department to ensure that the Committee included people with lived experience of homelessness as members:

•In the Call for Nominations process, lived experience was identified as an asset qualification.
•In the assessment process, nominations submitted by individuals identifying a lived experience were assessed using the same criteria but through a separate assessment stream. A minimum of two positions on the Committee were set aside for individuals with lived experience.
•In recommendations to the Minister, lived experience was identified as an important qualification and biographies of recommended candidates identified lived experience.

From June-September 2019, the Department will hold an online consultation to seek feedback from Canadians on how to better address homelessness in Canada. The Department developed two distinct questionnaires to gather specific feedback from individuals and organizations. The questionnaire for individuals included various questions that specifically targeted people with lived experience of homelessness.

As part of the work of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness, eight in-person community roundtables were organized across Canada. The Department worked with local service providers to identify and invite people with lived experience that could speak of the issues and challenges in the community. At least two individuals participated in each roundtable.

Addressing Unique Barriers to Participation for people with lived experience

Many people with lived experience homelessness continue to live on very low income and remain precariously housed. Ensuring their meaningful engagement in public policy processes requires removing or reducing any financial or other barriers that may limit their participation (including time away from paid employment, childcare costs, and costs associated with travel, etc.).

In the context of the work of the Committee, ESDC provided financial compensation to members who identified a lived experience and a need for financial support to participate. The details of the compensation were outlined in a contract. The payment of honoraria is not allowable under our financial policy within the Government of Canada and there was no clear mechanism available for this. Working with Procurement, contracts were prepared on the basis of a fee for service, on the rationale that members with lived experience would bring a unique and valued expertise to the Committee. The Department made arrangements to cover upfront the travel costs when members had to travel to attend Committee business activities. To ensure that people with lived experience were at no time “out of pocket” for these expenses, the Department needed to make exceptions to this standard practice. Staff booked and arranged payment for all travel and accommodation on their behalf and provided advanced funds for remaining travel expenses.

To arrange for the payment of honoraria and local travel costs for individuals with lived experience at each community roundtable, the Department worked with Procurement to develop contracts with a local service provider in each city. The service provider helped to identify a value for the honoraria appropriate to the local context and an estimate of local travel costs. The service provider facilitated the pre-payment for local travel and the payment of honoraria on the day of the event. Following the roundtable, the service provider invoiced the Department for this work.

Through this practice, the federal homelessness program is viewed as a leader in the Government of Canada in creating the conditions through which people with lived experience of homelessness can meaningfully contribute to program and policy design. The team who led this initiative worked diligently to provide guidelines for this type of engagement that are respectful of, and attuned to, the needs of people living in low income. Furthermore, the program worked with local service providers to understand the unique circumstances of the individuals involved and put supports in place to enable their participation. This work involved listening to the trauma of others and required a deep understanding that for some, participating in a government engagement can trigger difficult and painful memories and emotions. The Department is well positioned to train and support others in the federal government to undertake similar types of engagement

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