Individuals with lived experience of homelessness and housing insecurity have the best idea of what solutions will work and can provide invaluable feedback on the systems they have personally navigated. There are a number of ways that communities can leverage lived expertise to identify solutions to the homelessness crisis. Popular methods include collecting consumer feedback via surveys and focus groups, establishing a lived experience advisory board, and/or hiring individuals with lived experience as staff and leadership in the homeless system of care.
Lived Experience Leadership
Santa Clara County
In Santa Clara County, the Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) is a leadership development body composed of individuals with current or past experiences of homelessness. The LEAB makes recommendations on policies and funding opportunities, hosts professional development opportunities for members, and leads evaluations and projects. For example, the LEAB drafted a report assessing resident and staff experiences in a local shelter in 2020, which was then used by the shelter to make immediate improvements in their programs. The LEAB has also been hired for consulting work, provided feedback on a client portal, worked with the local Public Housing Authority on programmatic design, among other accomplishments.
King County (WA)
The King County (WA) Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) provides several different opportunities for individuals with lived experience to share in decision-making power. The structure and purpose of the KCRHA was designed in partnership with the Lived Experience Coalition, a democratic group of individuals with current and former individuals with lived experience. The KCRHA’s Governing Committee – the body responsible for driving the work of KCRHA – reserves three out of its nine seats for representatives of individuals with lived experience, who are recommended by the Lived Experience Coalition and approved by the CoC Board. In 2020, KCRHA hired a staff member to support lived experience representatives throughout the KCRHA.
Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP)
Under HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), Youth Action Boards comprised youth with lived experience are decision-makers in each step of policy implementation. These individuals are able to think creatively without system constraints, leading to a number of successes around the country.
In Baltimore City, members of their Lived Experience Advisory Committee (LEAC), an official CoC standing committee, sit on almost every CoC committee and make decisions about funding and system-wide policies.
Feedback and Engagement
Little Rock, Arkansas
Our House, in Little Rock, Arkansas collects feedback from clients through frequent survey collection and collaboration with the organization’s Community Council. Surveys focus broadly on client experience, ranging from client feedback about specific programs to feelings of safety on-site. Feedback collected through this process has led to several programmatic changes, as well as improved confidence and self-advocacy among residents.
In Montana through the Youth Homeless Demonstration Project, youth consumers helped shed light on gaps that only those moving through the system could identify, clarifying the difference between resources that are technically available and those that are actually accessible.
City of Austin
The City of Austin’s Homelessness Advisory Council (AHAC, formerly the Advisory Committee), comprised of all people with lived experience of homelessness, meets regularly to provide input and feedback to processes, programs, and practices that impact people with lived experience.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
In the late summer of 2020, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) convened a series of listening sessions for people with lived experience of homelessness to help develop a federal strategic plan to end homelessness.