Beyond the significant and ongoing input that tenants provide to an individual supportive housing project, they are an important voice in the larger community. Individuals who have experienced homelessness have often been marginalized and disempowered. They are also experts on the successes and failures of the systems of care that most communities are trying to improve in order to address challenges such as homelessness. In addition to leadership opportunities that tenants may access through their involvement in faith organizations, community organizations or issue activism, organizations involved in providing housing and services to tenants can play an important role in ensuring that the community values the leadership of tenants. Some opportunities are listed below.
Reserving spots on their board of directors for persons who are current or former supportive housing tenants. However, simply offering tenants the opportunity to be on a board of directors is not sufficient. In order to promote tenants’ ability to be successful in these roles, organizations should:
- Provide an orientation and experienced mentor to all board members, including supportive housing tenants.
- Provide transportation or offer public transportation passes.
- Schedule meetings at times that tenants are able to attend or vary the meeting times/dates based on the schedules of all members.
- Emphasize that board members can contribute in a variety of ways, such as through offering their life experiences or volunteering, not just through financial contributions.
- Consider having more than one tenant on the board at one time so that tenants will not feel as isolated.
Supporting or promoting the development of a community-wide (at the local, regional or state level) association of supportive housing tenants that meets regularly and is tenant-led. Such associations provide opportunities for tenants to connect as peers, create opportunities for education and advocate on issues of importance.
Develop a Speaker’s Bureau that provides interested tenants with an opportunity to articulate their story in order to influence people or policies. For tenants who are willing to share their story, this can be a powerful opportunity to improve their public speaking skills and provide a critically needed resource in the community. Speakers who have life experience with issues like homelessness or mental illness have an impact on policymakers and community members that cannot be duplicated.