Lauren Samblanet, FTEH Program and Membership Coordinator, reflects on key takeaways for philanthropy from the 2018 True Colors Fund Summit in October.
At the 2018 True Colors Fund Impact Summit, there was a great deal of conversation about giving folks with lived experience a seat at the table. Questions like “How might it change our funding and our communities if we were to give folks with lived experience a seat at the table and to really listen to their ideas?” and “How can we respect and value folks with lived experience not simply because they have lived experience, but because we see them as the whole people that they are?” provided a platform for funders to consider how funding could make a radical shift that truly supports the populations you are seeking to support.
It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the focal points of conversation was regarding compensation. The youth fellows at the True Colors Fund, as well as other youth leaders at the conference, discussed the importance of fair wages for folks with lived experience. If we, as funders, say we place value in the ideas of folks with lived experience, we must then back this up by investing in the financial stability of these folks. That stability comes from both being paid (not in food), and also making a commitment to developing skills and resumes. As funders, we have access to knowledge, tools, and trainings that might help folks to continue to build their resumes and their future financial stability. Offering a seat at the table is not by itself sufficient; this decision must be backed by a real investment in the financial stability of those we invite to our tables.
Alongside fair compensation, it is important for us to consider how we are engaging with folks who have lived experience. While we have invited these folks to the table because they have insight about a particular experience, we need to ensure that we are engaging them as whole people, not just as their lived experience. This comes from getting to know the folks we are engaging with, but also in being careful in how we ask people to speak about their lived experience. Homelessness is traumatic and speaking about experiences of being homelessness can launch people into trauma response. We must be thoughtful in what information we ask folks to share, and we need to make sure they are met with support and care when they do share their experiences.
What does it mean to listen to folks with lived experience? It’s likely that those with lived experience will provide ideas that we might find radical as solutions to end homelessness. It’s also likely that these ideas might feel challenging or risky to pursue. However, if we invite folks with lived experience to our tables, we must honor their feedback and understand that their radical ideas are more informed than our own as the lens we look through isn’t from one of lived experience. The systems in place now are deeply flawed, deeply problematic, and often times harm those most vulnerable.
Radical ideas might be our only solution to these systems, and while it is risky to move away from what we know, what we know may not always work or be the best solution, so perhaps the time has come to take a risk.
Finally, we should consider how inclusive we are being in our invitations to folks with lived experience. If we fund in LGBTQ+ homelessness, are we inviting folks with different identities within LGBTQ+ to the table? In a session on bisexual programs, or the lack there of, within homelessness, Heron Greenesmith pointed out how little support there is for bisexual youth, and highlighted the specific issues that bisexual youth face that can lead to homelessness. We need to be intentional and careful not to conflate all LGBTQ+ identities or all POC identities. We need to learn about the differences bisexual youth face as opposed to the difficulties gay youth face. One way to ensure we are learning about the experiences of folks of different identities is to invite people with varied identities to our table. And then after inviting them, to invest in their stability, well-being, and ideas.