When Takisha Jordan sought resources for housing insecurity in Madison, she felt intimidated by the available providers and services because she did not feel they represented her.
“I felt like everywhere I went when I was seeking help in medicine, I was running to people that didn't look like me,” Jordan said. “I thought it was kind of intimidating, and when I did meet people that looked like me, they were the custodian, the front desk or the receptionist, so it was just a little weird.”
These experiences inspired Jordan to help start the Homeless Services Consortium of Dane County’s (HSC) Lived Experience Council, which gives community members who have experienced housing insecurity an opportunity to play a crucial role in decision making and local advocacy, she said.
“I wanted to make sure those that are being affected by a lot of the [systemic] barriers in the community have an opportunity or a chance to be at the table where decisions are being made, and that's either for funding or either creating new housing programs,” Jordan said.
At its core, the HSC aims to partner with local agencies, donors, advocates and those who have experienced housing insecurity to connect individuals in the community to shelter and housing programs. The Lived Experience Council plays a role in developing committees, grant writing and making funding decisions based on members’ experiences with different programs and services to help determine where funding should be funneled.
During the Council’s founding, it was crucial for Jordan to ensure their program compensated individuals with lived experiences for their time. Now, individuals who serve on the Council are paid hourly for their time and expertise.
“I got some funding, and we were able to bring in people and give them a wage for also attending, because that was another thing, a lot of agencies were asking for people with lived experience to come to these tables and they were not being compensated,” Jordan said.
Torrie Kopp Mueller, the HSC’s continuum of care coordinator, works closely with Jordan in supporting the Lived Experience Council.
“We all come together to try to work as a system and identify gaps and services and try to work with other sectors and make sure we're all moving forward together,” Kopp Mueller said.
Hearing from youth with lived experience
Under the HSC, the Dane County Youth Action Board incorporates community members ranging in age from 16 to 25 — over two thirds of whom have lived experience with housing insecurity — in discussions surrounding housing insecurity in Dane County.
The Youth Action Board provides a platform for individuals with lived experience to engage in community listening sessions and make decisions regarding support programs and advocacy for individuals facing housing insecurity.
Kayla Every, the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program coordinator, has worked with the HSC since March 2022. Every said she relies on her prior experience to support, recruit and build a community among the 24 members of the Youth Action Board.
“I was a young adult who was homeless in Madison for a few years, so it was very emotional for me coming into this,” Every said. “It’s been very healing because it’s so near and dear to my heart.”
The members are tasked with supporting events and fundraising, grant writing, social media efforts, collaborative policy reading and writing, and other project management tasks. Youth Action Board members are compensated for their time and expertise thanks to grant funding, but the program also relies on donations to support their mission.
Every said meetings range from “very serious” discussions to bowling alley trips and Perkins Restaurant visits to build community.
“I'm thankful that I'm at a point where I'm comfortable talking about my lived experience, [but] not everyone is and that is entirely alright,” Every said. “But I'm thankful I'm at that point because it has been incredibly useful, incredibly powerful and has given me the ability to consider things I know would have maybe not been considered.”
While Every’s job is to support Youth Action Board members, she said her work has also helped her process her own experiences and provided her a space to connect with others who have experienced housing insecurity.
“We're a community now,” Every said. “We have trust between each other to really support each other in those ways and understand what someone might be going through at a really different level. I'm really thankful for that because I didn't have a group of people like that ever before.”
Gina Musso is a Senior Staff Writer at The Daily Cardinal. She previously served as College News Editor and Features Editor, focusing coverage around student government, campus COVID updates and in-depth reporting. Follow her on Twitter @gina__musso.