Written By Nicole Jackson, Research and Policy Analyst , CHF

A number of months ago, our blog post focused on the work of the Client Action Committee in relation to a project collaborating with the Alberta Human Rights Commission to explore the rights of people experiencing homelessness. Client Action Committee is a group hosted at CHF of persons with lived experience (past or present) of homelessness, who help conduct research and inform a number of different components of the work we do.

That work has continued, and as the project approaches its conclusion, we invited Client Action Committee members to reflect on what their participation in the committee and on this project has meant to them.

Working on the Homeless Charter of Rights Project, surrounded by people with deep knowledge and understanding of the lived experience of homelessness has been humbling. It’s also been fun. One day, after letting the committee know I was writing this blog about my experience of working on the project, a member turned to me and asked plainly: “Well, what have you learned from us?” I chuckled, and stared at the table – not for lack of a response, but for the overwhelming nature of the question. What did I learn from this group of courageous, hilarious, hard-working people who ventured to share parts of their lives with me?

I reflected back to them that I learned more than I could simply tell them right there, right then – that my stuttered response was a function of too many things coming to mind.

I told them I learned about the courage and resilience of people who experience homelessness, of the importance of attitude, about what bravery looks like.

I learned about what the landscape of homelessness looks like in Calgary – what resources people rely on, which ones they love, what moments of the year are critical, what facility serves the better free coffee.

As much as I could from their willingness to share, I learned to understand how marginalization and stigmatization shapes how you view the world, and how after a while, your very posture can change the way you interact with everything.

I learned how I could do my job better. I learned how to be a better citizen in Calgary.

And then slowly, we circled the table, each person saying what the experience had meant to them, what the project had taught them. They said:

  •  “I learned a lot about myself – my abilities, strengths, weaknesses.” Having the opportunity to do new things like public speaking “helped me in acknowledging my own insecurities and taking steps to overcome them. I have what it takes to make a difference – in my life, in others’ lives.”
  • “I do believe I am a better person for attending these meetings.”
  • “CAC helped me with “realizing I’m not alone.”
  • “Being here opened my eyes…friends would give me something to bring to the table. I want to give back. All the opportunities that I’ve had [interviews, projects, speaking] showed me that people really do care – which makes me want to give back.”
  • “It’s an honour to be a part of this project. I can see my own self, my own eyes we are making a difference. I like being a part of the change, a positive change. It all goes together with my life now.
  • “it’s a bridge between us and them, bridging a major gap, publicly there seems to be more publicity of homelessness and not in a negative way. It feels good to do this, it’s part of my life to know [know my rights] now.”
  • “What I learned from you guys and being in this group is the compassion that people have for each other.”
  • “If somebody had an issue, you [all] listened to us…sometimes it just helps to get things off your chest.”

Universally, what every member said – in their own way – was that through their participation, they learned about themselves. They learned about their own strength, their unique perspective, their abilities. They reflected this with sheepish smiles, with overwhelming pride, with a chuckle about their surprise at their own capacity.

 This so frequently feels like some of the most important work we do – the kind of work where we learn from each other, where the learning is a two-way street (or maybe more like a gigantic, jumbled, multi-road intersection). Maybe when we learn, it’s best if we all learn together.

 Stay tuned for more information about the Homeless Charter of Rights

as we prepare to share our findings at a launch in Calgary this spring!