Taking a leap of faith: Meaningful participation of people with experiences of homelessness in solutions to address homelessness

Trudy Laura Norman, Bernadette Pauly, Hilary Marks, Dakota Palazzo


Participation of people with experiences of homelessness is critical to the development of meaningful strategies to end homelessness. The purpose of this study was to gain insights from people who have been homeless in a mid-sized Canadian city, as to strategies that facilitate meaningful participation in solutions to end homelessness. Within an overarching framework of collaborative research, we collected data through seven focus groups and employed interpretive description as our approach to data analysis. In our analysis, we identified both exclusionary and inclusionary forces that impact participation. Exclusionary forces included being ‘caught in the homelessness industry’, ‘homelessness is a full time job’ and facing stigma/discrimination that make participation a ‘leap of faith’. Inclusionary forces included earning respect and building trust to address unequal power relations, and restoring often ‘taken for granted’ social relations. Specific strategies to enhance participation include listening, valuing skills and stories, and supporting advocacy efforts. The study findings illuminate ways in which power imbalances are lived out in the daily lives of people who experience homelessness, as well as mitigating forces that provide direction as to strategies for addressing power inequities that seek to make participation and social inclusion meaningful.

Keywords: homelessness, social policy, social exclusion, social inclusion, advocacy

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