Lived Expertise Working Group

Lived Expertise Working Group 
 Supporting the implementation of the Housing Strategy of the City of Kitchener

falling through the cracks - Voices of Displacement Exibit August 16, 2023


exhibit hall

Housing Lived Experience Working Group






The Social Development Centre has partnered with the City of Kitchener to initiate a Lived Expertise Working Group on housing. Over the next two years the working group will be advising the City of Kitchener’s Housing for All Strategy to implement and monitor some of the affordable housing actions and programs that better address the challenges of people experiencing marginalization. The project is funded by the Community Housing Transformation Centre, City of Kitchener and School of Planning, University of Waterloo.

This working group is a pilot project to model how Lived Expertise engagement can evolve and look like in the future. Building on the City’s desire to ensure representation of those with lived experience, our model of Lived Expertise encompasses advocacy, community accountability, and transformative power. The working group will continue refining this model to make recommendations for other institutions engaging people with lived experience in decision making and hands-on collaboration.

Thanks to our many community partners, the twelve working group members have been selected, scheduled to meet for the first exploratory meeting on May 26th. 

Please join us in welcoming the working group members to this exciting project: 

  • Charlene Lee

  • Charles Nichols

  • Donald Lacasse

  • Fidelia Ukueje

  • Heather Majaury

  • Julian Ichim

  • Latasha Wilson

  • Maedith Radlein

  • Mauleek Bhatt

  • Milo (Tia) Hansen

  • Udanapher Nadine Green

The current 11 members of the Lived Expertise Working Group started working together in May. They set their own rules for working together, the Space Agreement, to allow for safe and honest sharing of the knowledge and experiences. They come from diverse backgrounds, yet, share passion for the human right to housing.

In July 2022, after the orientation to the City of Kitchener's Housing Strategy, Social Development Centre's Lifelong Engagement approach, and the city and the regional government responsibilities, they went through a convergence exercise to determine their priorities for the year ahead:

  • advocating for supports to people living in encampments and
  • contributing to closer collaboration among different levels of government on housing. 

 What we have achieved in eight months:

We have gone far in a short time * Supported planning regarding encampments * Built on our past experience to advise the city and the regional staff and council * Been heard by some academic circles and politicians * Raised awareness of the severity of the problems * Found points of agreement despite all our differences * Started the approach for municipalities on how to include lived experience * 

Regional Interim Housing Plan 

July and August 2022 work with the City of Kitchener and the Regional Interim Housing Plan, addressing both identified priorities

Region of Waterloo will embark this fall in designing a permitted and managed outdoor site with more supports than a sanctioned encampment would have. It is a part of their Homelessness Master Plan that will include home supports, an additional shelter location, and expansion of the Indigenous-led transitional housing.

One permitted outdoor site is a great win for all who were advocating for sanctioned encampments, but is still way away from the actual application of the Human Rights Approach to Homelessness which requires all encampments being sanctioned and supported to ensure temporary safety for their residents until appropriate and adequate housing options are available. 

You can read more from the council minutesand you can hear delegates speaking on August 18th (at about 34 min in). Delegations: Char Lee, Fidelia Otokina, Julian Ichim, Mauleek Bhatt, Melissa Byrne, Udanapher Green.

100 Viber Court Case and Outdoor Shelter 

Kitchener's Lived Expertise Working Group members were consulted in preparation of the Interim Housing Plan in October 2022. They delegated at the committee and council meetings and asked for adoption of the human rights approach/participation of lived expertise in development of the solutions; dropping the court case to evict 100 Victoria encampment as contrary to the human rights approach to homelessness; adequate funding for the managed outdoor site as well as trauma informed approach with staff and peer workers that will "manage" it. The topics that were brought forward and not addressed so far by the council of staff are decriminalization of homelessness that would include immediate suspension of all trespassing and loitering bylaws on public lands as well as withdrawal of the court case to evict residents at 100 Victoria St. encampment in Kitchener. 

Read the submission of the group to the Regional Council in October 2022 regarding the interim responses to homelessness.

Orientation for the Region of Waterloo Councilors and Staff November 30 2022

The group welcomed regional councillors and staff for a sharing circle and orientation rooted in their lived experience and advocacy work with people being precariously housed or homeless. The immersion exercise was a useful tool to 'welcome' the guests in a way that reverses the script that low-income and marginalized groups encounter when entering institutional spaces. 

Settling into the discomfort and at the same time embracing the willingness to learn, the regional officials gradually heard prepared stories, roleplay, and recommendations from the group members; they asked many questions about causes and approaches to homelessness, human rights and criminalization of poverty, and most of all, how to continue working together. 

Some of the messages shared: systemic nature of oppression is not part of the policy making, and even when individual experiences demonstrate the inadequate systems of support, those are treated as individual failings; councils have to provide resources for long term engagement with people and hold staff accountable for collaborating with lived experience and placing the value on their contributions; build in lived-expertise into monitoring of the implementation of strategies and policies. 


City of Kitchener Bylaw Enforcement and homeless encampments 

The group continues to meet and build shared understanding of the needs of unsheltered communities on city properties, as well as the types of supports and investment made by the municipal staff. Major concerns are the lack of visibility of the people tenting on city lands by the regional health and social services agencies. The broader community coordination of supports was identified as a gap, especially during the winter months.

The changes of the current outdated municipal bylaws was also brough to the attention of the city staff. So called neo-vagrancy by-laws persist in criminalizing loitering, salvaging, obstruction of passage, and need to be reviewed through the human rights lens in times of housing crisis when affordable and supportive housing is not available to meet the needs. 

Read more about the work of the By-Law focused sub-group.


Research Projects Led by the Group 2022 - 2023

Forum on Changes in Public Opinions on Housing

On October 9, the group prepared their presentation to and engaged with researchers from different universities in Ontario, hosted by the Wilfrid Laurier University LISPOP Forum. They contributed deeper understanding of the issues faced by residents who are precariously housed, especially the experiences of homelessness through the lense of drug use, lack of health supports, challenges with mental health and marginalization through enforcement and policing. 

Perceptions of Displacement - views from the lived experience and city staff 

Community Psychology student team from Wilfrid Laurier University will support the work of the group members in addressing pressing housing questions at the municipal level through literature review and identification of best practices.

The identified question is displacement and evictions that are making housing less affordable and accessible to low-income residents, at the same time a major contributor to increasing homelessness. The photo-voice research project starts in January 2023 to explore perceptions and understanding of different actors and initiate dialogue across socio-economic and knowledge divides. 

Solutions to Homelessness - how lived experience expertise shapes critical strategies 

University of Waterloo Prof. Brian Doucet will be collaborating with the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region and the LEWG in a participatory action research with Prof. Laura Pin from Wilfrid Laurier University, The project is an answer to the call from the Region of Waterloo to access authentic knowledge to guide their work in creation of the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. It will build capacity of the members of the Lived Experience Working Group in participatory research methods, so they will go through a full cycle of defining research questions, collecting data and offering actions to address the most pressing needs of the unsheltered communities.   


The project is funded and supported by the Community Housing Transformation Centre, City of Kitchener and School of Planning, University of Waterloo,

It is a continuation of the application of the Lifelong Engagement trauma informed approach to knowledge making and advocacy done by the underserved and under-represented communities in housing and homelessness policy advocacy from 2018-2020.

Point in Time Count 2021

Lived Experience Community Advisory 19/20

Accessible & Affordable Housing Now,Disabilities and Human Rights Group

Do No Harm! ALIVe Group Submission to the Ontario Government

Voices from the Margins Hearing with the Ontario Mennonite Central Committee

We can do better, People's Action Group