When planning services for less complex problems, it is common for planning to be driven by single agencies. When dealing with homelessness, however, it is necessary to adopt a multi-sectorial or â€śwhole of societyâ€ť approach to planning and decision-making. Also, as groups begin the planning process, tensions can arise in the decision-making process, particularly between â€śtop downâ€ť approaches, where decision-making is driven by leaders of an organization, and collaborative approaches, through which there is more inclusive participation from diverse stakeholders involved in program planning . There is also a tension between using a collaborative approach and the inevitable deadlines and realities of the planning and service delivery environment.
What are some strategies for developing an effective decision-making process regarding planning?
1. Use a cross-sectorial approach.
A cross-sectorial approach is crucial to success at the planning stage. Collaborating across sectors is a way to ease doubt and uncertainty and to facilitate community â€śbuy-in.â€ť In order to build strong relationships across sectors, stakeholders emphasized the importance of consensus-building, open dialogues, and mutual respect. When planning a Housing First program, think broadly about engaging potential stakeholders- include the perspectives of stakeholders beyond the housing and mental health/service sectors, including individuals from the justice sector, individuals experienced with income assistance, landlords and people with lived experience of homelessness, mental health issues, and other issues experienced by the target population.
By using a cross-sectorial approach, communities can benefit from the experiences and perspectives of a broad cross section of stakeholders to better understand the needs of the target population. For instance, the coalition can collaboratively explore community-specific issues, such as the specific needs and challenges of the target population, the extent to which current services are meeting these needs, gaps in services, and vacancy rates/the current housing market.
When using a cross-sectorial approach, it is important to build bridges between sectors, and also â€śbetween the worldviews of different communitiesâ€ť. In the Winnipeg site, for example, stakeholders were proactive by providing a forum for sharing and discussion during the planning process. â€śTwo days were set aside for teaching and sharing, [making] sure there was time and opportunity for people to come together and find out about each othersâ€™ workâ€ť . Within the At Home/Chez Soi program, the Site Coordinator position was often instrumental in helping the various partners voice areas of disagreement, and develop a common vision for proceeding. This site coordinator was often someone experienced and trusted with the multiple sectors of the project: someone who had worn â€śmultiple hatsâ€ť and was skilled in navigating a complex terrain of interests and perspectives. The value of finding â€śneutral spaceâ€ť also became apparent, as a way of helping the various players to begin the dialogue that was necessary for moving forward.
2. Establish a culture of problem-solving and learning.
Findings from At Home/Chez Soi and consultations with stakeholders suggest that it is important to establish a collaborative approach. Establish a culture of â€ślearning as we goâ€ť that is not punitive to staff or participants for making mistakes. The process of working through problems collaboratively is an important team building experience that is facilitated by a culture of problem solving and learning. Additionally, to establish a learning culture around Housing First, stakeholders suggested developing a â€śCommunity of Practiceâ€ť, which is a diverse group of individuals with shared interest and diverse experiences regarding Housing First. Within the Community of Practice, stakeholders can share effective strategies and lessons learned regarding program planning.
3. Provide clarity regarding staff roles and responsibilities during the planning process.
It is critical to establish roles and responsibilities early, particularly between housing and clinical teams. Stakeholders suggest developing clear protocols about decision-making and accountability for both housing and clinical teams from the onset. Additionally, it is important to distinguish (for Housing First stakeholders and professionals from other programs) between which services are provided through the mainstream system versus those provided through Housing First teams.
4. Engage the voices of people with lived experience in the planning process.
Involving people with lived experience at an early stage is crucial to effective engagement and the development of meaningful and inclusive roles. It is important for people with lived experience to be present at planning meetings, and to ensure that people with lived experience are given opportunities to voice their perspectives with regard to planning tasks. It is essential to think through potential roles for people with lived experience to ensure that they are able to provide meaningful feedback, communicate concerns regarding implementation, and appropriately engage with program participants. In order to integrate peers meaningfully onto teams, it is important to plan training opportunities for clinical staff who may have limited experience engaging with co-workers with lived experience. In acknowledging the importance of roles for people with lived experience, it is important to provide honoraria for participation, and to create full-time, paid positions for these individuals. Two important roles are:
Peer support workers - It is important to create peer-support roles within the framework of clinical service teams. Peer support workers are included as part of an ACT team. For more information about peer support roles, click here to access documents about engaging people with lived experience.
A peer ombudsmen â€“ A peer ombudsmen is a person with lived experience who can consult with program participants and take complaints regarding their experiences with the Housing First program. The ombudsmen should have knowledge of homelessness and services and the community and be housed in an agency not associated with the program (e.g. consumer or peer support centre).
By including people with lived experience during the planning stage, stakeholders can learn about the specific needs and perspectives of the target population, as it relates to adopting the Housing First model. For instance, if the target population includes survivors of domestic violence, these individuals can provide input about housing options that will best meet their needs and cultivate a sense of safety. Similarly, if the target population includes Aboriginal participants, it is important to understand cultural perspectives on the type of housing options that are most preferred.