Nothing For Us Without Us

Have you ever struggled to decide on the best gift to get someone for a birthday or Christmas? You can guess what they might like or snoop around their social media to dig up ideas. But the best way to know what to get them is to ask what they would like. 

Turns out, the same rules apply to serving our homeless neighbors. 

If you work in any part of homeless services, you’re bound to eventually hear the phrase “Nothing For Us Without Us”. The premise is simple, we can’t effectively serve our unhoused neighbors if we aren’t including them in the discussions about how to best serve them. Instead of guessing what to get them, we ask! 

Several of our staff members regularly engage with our unhoused neighbors. We meet with them individually, see them at events, or even stop to chat if we run into them around town. But we know that serving this group needs to be about more than just trying to understand them from an outsider's perspective. And that’s why we recently formed our Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB). 

Each month, our staff meets with a group of neighbors who are either actively homeless or have been homeless in the past. Thanks to a generous grant from the King Foundation, we are able to have fellowship over lunch, building the bonds as we get to know each other as individuals. But when the meal is done, we get down to business. 

The LEAB is there to hold us accountable and ensure that our public actions and words about homelessness reflect the realities of their lived experience. This group is the first to hear when we are planning to launch a campaign or speak at city council meetings. But the LEAB is so much more than an accountability partner. By formalizing our relationship, we are able to provide platforms for our homeless neighbors to speak for themselves. 

This was seen at our Homeless Symposium held this past November. Members of the LEAB shared their personal experiences and participated in a Q&A session where they shared the sometimes harsh realities of homelessness in our community.  

Through our Lived Experience Advisory Board, we’ve learned that being an advocate for someone doesn’t always mean speaking up for them. Sometimes it means handing them the microphone. We can’t wait to see what this dedicated group of neighbors will do next!