In this first in a series of insights into the work of the Homeless Link Partnerships Managers, Catherine Storey shows us how she works to ensure the voice of those with lived experience is central when developing strategy and policies.
As a Partnership Manager at Homeless Link, I primarily focus on building and strengthening partnerships with various organisations and stakeholders tackling homelessness. It's an ongoing effort to forge collaborations that leverage resources, expertise, and innovative ideas. This involves reaching out to potential partners, engaging in meaningful conversations, developing homelessness forums, being a critical friend or supporting strategy development.
One aspect of my current work in the East of England and East Midlands that holds immense significance for me is integrating the lived experience of homelessness into strategic decision-making processes. Drawing from my own personal experience of homelessness, I firmly believe that incorporating the voices of those who have this experience is crucial in our efforts to address homelessness comprehensively and effectively.
I remember when I started working in this sector 10 years ago. After 20 years of my own addiction and homelessness, I had few qualifications or work experience but a huge desire to work in the sector. I was already acutely aware of barriers in the system. A system that I had felt failed by and had seen it fail many others. I could see things in a way that seemed different to my colleagues and management. However, now the battle was to have mine and others lived experience heard at that level of decision making.
Needless to say, it was challenging. Not always taken seriously and with my growing frustrations I decided to go to university and study Social Science and Social Policy. My employer also supported me to study with the Chartered Institute of Housing and I successfully achieved my Level 4 in Housing Practice. I felt like I had an opportunity now to use these new skills to try and even the playing field.
I feel privileged that through my role at Homeless Link, I am given the opportunity to actively explore new and innovative ways to ensure that the perspectives and insights of individuals who have experienced homelessness first-hand are at the heart of decision-making discussions. This involves collaborating closely with organisations and individuals who share this vision, creating platforms and opportunities for people with lived experience to contribute their unique and insightful viewpoints.
It can be really challenging trying to bring in the voice of lived experience to areas that haven’t developed this way of working into their partnership. It involves a shift in culture and a willingness to try to do things differently. One initiative I am particularly excited about is forming a Lived Experience Advisory Group in one of the areas I am currently supporting. This group aims to bring together individuals who have experienced homelessness, providing a safe space for them to share their stories, ideas, and suggestions. I am also supporting two areas to co-produce a set of values for their local partnership. So far, engagement from those with lived experience in this process has been immense and I am looking forward to see how this develops over the next few months.
By actively involving people with lived experience in shaping strategies, policies, and programs, we can ensure that our collective efforts resonate with the needs and aspirations of those we aim to support. Integrating lived experience into decision-making can be transformative, both for the individuals involved and the sector as a whole. It challenges existing assumptions, provides fresh perspectives, and fosters empathy and understanding. I have witnessed first-hand the power of these conversations as they humanise the issue of homelessness and create a stronger sense of purpose and urgency among stakeholders.
I am always looking for new ways to engage in deep and meaningful conversations with individuals who have experienced homelessness. These discussions not only help me gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they face, but they also provide invaluable insights into the gaps and barriers within the system. I carry these stories and experiences with me as I meet with policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders, ensuring that the voices of those with lived experience are heard loud and clear.