Equity Means Engaging People with Lived Experience

For some time now, the Alliance has been on a journey to becoming an anti-racist organization that fully integrates justice and equity principles and practices into the work to end homelessness. We have been clear about existing racial and ethnic disproportionalities in homelessness, the causes related to centuries of systemic racial discrimination, and our intentionality about centering equity in our response to this crisis.

We have also dug deep into our internal work. The Alliance recognizes that creating a healthy, equitable, and inclusive organizational environment helps to foster our work and boost morale, particularly at a time when the numbers for people experiencing homelessness are increasing. The steps that have been taken include:

Establishing an internal equity committee: this committee includes one member from each department. It examines the organization’s equity work and suggests ways it can improve its performance internally.
Providing structured time for monthly meetings: These conversations help staff to build comfort discussing issues related to equity and justice.
Providing resources: The Alliance has provided funding and support for affinity groups and wellness activities.
Most importantly, we are aligning our message about fairness and access with the work to reshape our organizational culture and the external work to end homelessness.

There has been a missing piece to this work, though: adequate engagement with people with lived experience of homelessness throughout our processes and interaction with all staff. Rightfully, the Alliance is turning a new page on this too: this past year, the Alliance hired a new Director of Lived Experience and Innovation, Albert Townsend. While this responsibility does not and should not solely rest on his shoulders, he is leading the work to make sure the Alliance is invested in using our national platform to elevate the value of the expertise of people with lived experience of homelessness.

Incorporating People with Lived Experience

Through Albert’s leadership, the Alliance is in the process of developing a group of lived experience experts called the Community Strategic Team (CST). Incorporating people with lived experience of homelessness is not brand new to the Alliance, but the plan for engagement of this group is different in hopes of better integrating their voices into our processes.

To use Albert’s words: “The collaboration between the Alliance and the CST will uplift the lived experience community: not as tokens, placeholders, or numbers, but as serious change agents. The Alliance’s lived experience work will take a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground approach, and will stem from a holistic and sustainable housing justice model, underscoring the importance of a shared mission around preventing and ending homelessness, advocating for change, gaining knowledge and never giving up.”

The CST will work together with the Alliance to determine various opportunities to engage with staff and partner groups to shape best practices and national policy in the field. CST members will also engage in various activities, like the structure and content of Alliance conferences, as well as Capitol Hill Day during the July conference and continued advocacy efforts throughout the year. Once the foundation of the CST’s work is firmer, the next step will be to broaden the vision and scope of this work across a larger range of communities. Stay tuned.

Continuing our Equity Work

At the Alliance, we aspire to be guided by those most impacted by the issues we seek to address, including those with Black and/or Indigenous racial identities, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and other groups with socially stratifying identities. There is still a lot of learning, engaging, and change that has to happen, but I am glad that steps are being taken to listen to people with lived experience to have an impact on this devastating crisis.