Nothing about us without us:

Centering lived experience and revolutionary care in efforts to end and prevent homelessness in Canada

Alex Nelson

Published in Issue 2.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Homelessness, lived experience, Disability Justice, revolutionary care, Northern Canada


Following the efforts of Disability-Justice advocates who have fought for decades for the representation of people with disabilities in matters that impact them, this paper considers the importance of centering people with lived experience of homelessness and housing insecurity in efforts to end and prevent homelessness. This paper has three interrelated goals: situating the work being done by activists with lived experience of homelessness within broader homelessness prevention and housing rights advocacy in Canada; outlining the importance of centering voices of lived experience in research and advocacy contexts, focusing on both ‘naming’ power and privilege in advocacy work, and navigating embodied knowledge and epistemic authority; and highlighting the ethics of ‘care’ (as theorized by disability and feminist scholars) as fundamental to the process of doing radical and justice-oriented work. To accomplish this, this paper examines two oppositional faces of ‘care’–anonymous care, structured by the demands of neoliberal capitalism, and a potential antidote, revolutionary care. The paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2017 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to contextualize lived experience self-advocacy. Additional examples are drawn from the new Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network, as well as the author’s lived experience of homelessness and activist work in the context of homelessness prevention. Ultimately, this paper offers a critique of efforts to include lived experts in the fight to end and prevent homelessness that, despite good intentions, often reproduce power imbalances–suggesting mutual, reciprocal, revolutionary care as one possible path forward. Power operates in subtle ways in advocacy contexts as an unintended driver of exclusion and discrimination: recognizing and disrupting this dynamic is integral to the goals of ending and preventing homelessness and achieving housing justice in Canada.

Alex Nelson (they/them/their) is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Western University (London, Canada). Alex’s research focuses on gender, homelessness, and housing policy—specifically, the role of lived experience in policy advocacy.

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