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.
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
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Homelessness Partnering Strategy designed and executed an engagement process with ten community roundtables across the country and launched an Advisory Committee comprised of external experts, two of whom had live experience of homelessness. The federal department faced many challenges to compensate people with lived experience for their time and expertise. Government engagement and financial compensation processes are not set up to facilitate the participation of people living on low income. The team who led the engagement work at Employment and Social Development Canada changed the way that financial compensation is set for people with lived experience. The team demonstrated the need to put contracts with individuals in place to ensure they are appropriately compensated. The team is leading by example and showing other government departments and agencies how to do this efficiently and effectively, while at the same time ensuring a respectful and thorough engagement process.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The team who led the engagement work at Employment and Social Development Canada are currently diffusing our lessons learned to help other government departments and agencies understand how to respectfully and meaningfully facilitate the participation of people with lived experience of homelessness or low income into their public engagement processes. The team will develop guidelines on engagement and inclusion and detail the financial, time and other commitments required to undertake this work.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Civil society organizations worked with us to facilitate people with lived experience inclusion;
Citizens brought their stories, ideas and expertise to the public engagement process; and,
Government officials helped us to put in place the financial processes required to facilitate participation.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Members of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness who identified as people with lived experience;
People with lived experience of homelessness who participated in the community regional roundtables; and
People experiencing or at risk of homelessness who participated in the online consultation.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
By sharing their experience, people with lived experience brought unique insights on how policy and program design affect individuals experiencing homelessness. They also discussed the challenges and barriers people who are homeless face (e.g. discrimination, racism, stigma, trauma, violence) when they try to access housing and support services. Throughout the engagement process, participants underlined the need to ensure that programs and services are people-focused and address the diversity of needs. Both the Homelessness Partnering Strategy Engagement: What We Heard Report 2018 and the Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness captured their perspectives.
In terms of participation levels, over 190 individuals who identified with lived experience applied to the Call for Nomination of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness. Over 270 people with lived experience participated in the online consultation, which represents 19.65% of the individual surveys completed.
Challenges and Failures
Employment and Social Development Canada staff encountered various challenges related to the compensation and travel arrangement for people with lived experience as part of the engagement process. This process involved a steep learning curve not only for the program staff but also colleagues in Procurement and Finance who may not have had previous knowledge of the financial issues of people with lived experience. Since mechanisms do not exist within the Government of Canada to pay honoraria or pre-pay travel expenses for non-public servants (both directly in the case of Committee members, and through a local service provider in the case of roundtables), staff were required to work intensively with colleagues in Procurement and Finance to find work arounds. The process was very human resource intensive, involving a great deal of trial and error (and constant trouble-shooting), typically under very tight timelines.
Conditions for Success
From the beginning, senior leaders, including the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary, were supportive of the inclusion of people with lived experience in the engagement process. They understood the importance of the initiative and supported staff actions when procurement and logistic issues were raised. The Parliamentary Secretary, who was the chair of the Committee, underlined several times the unique knowledge and expertise people with lived experience of homelessness brought to the process.
Staff leadership and capacity to resolve problems were also key in the process. Since mechanisms do not exist within the Government of Canada to pay honoraria or pre-pay travel expenses for non-public servants, the Department staff were required to work intensively with colleagues in Procurement and Finance to find creative solutions. The process was very human resource intensive, involving a great deal of trial and error (and constant trouble-shooting), typically under tight timelines.
Employment and Social Development Canada is committed to engaging with Canadians, including people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Building on lessons learned, the Department will continue to use existing procurement and financial mechanisms to ensure people with lived experience of homelessness can fully participate in engagement processes.
ESDC will develop a set of guidelines and lessons learned that can be shared with other government departments and agencies on how to do this type of engagement in a way that is respectful and honours the expertise of people with lived experience of homelessness. The program continues to engage with people with lived experience to better inform the new federal homelessness program’s implementation.
In the future, it will be important for Employment and Social Development to work with Procurement and Finance as early as possible to establish and formalized a mechanism for the contracting and payment of travel costs to streamline the process. This is to address the procurement and financial issues when engaging with people with lived experience of homelessness.
Facilitating the inclusion of people with lived experience in engagement work requires a trauma-informed approach. Individuals with a lived experience of homelessness often have histories of trauma and many suffer from post-traumatic stress and experience anxiety about sharing their story with service providers and government representatives. Participants may require support from a peer or trusted service provider during and after the event.
In cases where engagement with people with lived experience is longer-term or on going, there is a need for capacity development, both on the part of Government of Canada staff and people with lived experience. Training may be required for employees to help facilitate an understanding of how to communicate and work with people with lived experience, which is informed by, and sensitive to, their experience and all that this entails (including financial difficulties, histories of trauma, feelings of marginalization, etc.). For people with lived experience, helping to establish a plain language understanding of how government and policy development works would help to create more productive dialogue and ensure that the expectations they bring to engagements are realistic.
For more on the work of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness on the Homelessness Partnering Strategy visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/communities/homelessness/publications-bulletins/advisory-committee-report.html