Lived Expertise

Social Development Centre has been working in a unique approach for decades, recently called Lifelong Engagement, to remain grounded in the direct and authentic access to knowledge of the most marginalized and underserved populations. It is called lifelong because we work on long-term relationships with the community connectors and ensure supports that can sustain their lasting involvement. Our staff recognized that we had to rely on the lived experience of people living in poverty, living with disabilities, newcomers, seniors, women and youth, who were the only true experts in directing  the work in policy advocacy and service changes that impact their lives. We learned to step back and work in support of underrepresented voices offering our connections, organizational capacity and outmost respect of their resiliency and wisdom. This type of work is being more and more recognized for its indispensable role and value for our common sustainable future in Waterloo Region. 

Current Initiatives 

Previous Initiatives 



Lived Expertise Working Group with the City of Kitchener

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. 

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

  • Melissa Byrne

  • Milo (Tia) Hansen

  • Udanapher Nadine Green

The 12 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, 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. 

July and August 2022 work on 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 minutes

and you can hear delegates speaking on August 18th: (at about 34 min in)

Kitchener's Lived Expertise Working Group members were consulted in preparation of the Interim Housing Plan. They also 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. 

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.

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 

Wellbeing Waterloo Region Surveys 2018 / 2022

Four years after the first Wellbeing Waterloo Region survey initiative across all seven municipalities in 2018, our community connectors are invited to participate in the 2022 mini survey development to ensure longitudinal data collection. The two members of immigrant and racialized communities will work together with Wellbeing WR partner organization representatives also on development of data collection strategies in underserved communities. 

Please read more from the 2018 reports on the survey responses collection in populations hard to reach such as low income, homeless and persons with disabilities, as well as the recommendations brought forward with the community connectors who collected the responses during the sense-making process in 2019. 


cCHALLENGE Pilot Project 2022

cChallenge Banner

Building a strong sense of individual agency can be the first and necessary step in countering the climate change locally. A group of nine participants, undertaking multiple challenges instead of just one, learned and shared over 30 days their successes, challenges, and shifts in thinking about change in the current social, economic, political and multi-cultural contexts. What is the environmental footprint of A Better Tent City? How would diverse meat-eating traditions adjust to the current meat-alternatives inspired food production and consumption? How do we instill new sets of values to the children regarding technology, energy consumption, reusable containers? How do we experience food growing, preparation and enjoyment as spiritual? Why are colder showers so invigorating? The report we are compiling will reveal some of the answers, as well the validation that we need more authentic voices in the climate justice work in the region from African and Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and low-income communities. Persons with disabilities, seniors and youth. We hope to build on this pilot and start new transformational approach with group, community, system and cultural challenges. 

More to come...