I worked as a member of  Feantsa´s Participation working group years 2007-2017. The group greated participation toolkits, arranged seminars and trained people all over the Europe of participation. But the most important part was the choice that half of the people in the group had experience in homelessness and half had a professional status.

In organizations there are different levels of participation. From been asked your opinion to full participation and shared power. Of course some people has more structural power, but we all have the power of interaction.  In our Housing unit “The house of Fellows(The first Housing first Unit in Finland)  I asked  from a resident in the beginning: “What actions would you like to participate?
He stared at me long and said: “Now I would like to participate in my own life, nothing else”.

In my own organization, which was founded by homeless themselves, we have done participation since the day one. Participation penetrates the whole organization from the grassroot level to the top. One fourth of our paid staff has experience in homelessness and we have a team of experts who train and mentor professionals and experts of experience nationally in Finland. First executive manager had experience in homelessness.
My boss, the chairman of the board of our NGO, has experience in homelessness. First he contacted our organization by sending notes under the door. Gradually he came in to our services and one day he was offered a paid job and after he retired he was asked to be the chair of the organization.

Once we got a big donation from the city photo exhibition and some people where a little suspicious that the money goes to some overall expenses. We said to the donator that tell people that we used the money to hire two people who had experience in homelessness to work with us.

We participated to the competition to create a housing first unit together with Y-foundation in the first period of Finnish national program to end homelessness. The city of Helsinki offered to the winner the building and land where the unit could be made. Our group consisted of a person experiencing homelessness, residents of housing first unit, staff of both organizations, architect and a constructor. The member of a group and a resident in our housing unit asked me that if he could do a work practice period at the same time. I still remember how the worker from employment services phoned me and said how come that this person´s title is the project manager?

There are many stories like this, but the main offer to people who come to the organization and services is to make people feel genuinely equal, other vise people don’t feel that the power and resources are shared. Full participation is an access to the same possibilities than everyone else has.

Text: Sanna Tiivola

The writer is an executive manager of NGO No Fixed Abode.
Kirjoittaja on Vailla vakinaista asuntoa ry:n toiminnanjohtaja.

Teksti on julkaistu lokakuussa 2023 Euroopan asunnottomuustoimijoiden kattojärjestö FEANTSA:n HOMELESS IN EUROPE MAGAZINE: ssa.