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At a consultation preceding the June 2 meeting of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), there was an interesting conversation about a new approach in the service community — the idea of peer workers who act as outreach workers.

Some of the people in attendance tried to define what peer workers would actually do. Robert Warren, executive director of People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC), described a one-on-one process with someone who has successfully dealt with a problem such as homelessness helping others navigate to a successful conclusion. “I think it’s about [teaching others how to be] a self-advocate,” he said. “One of the things we do at People for Fairness Coalition is self-advocacy.” Warren also saw value in just lending an ear. For the last six years, PFFC has been at the forefront on issues pertaining to homelessness and has been one of the most vocal groups at ICH meetings. The PFFC members have all experienced housing issues at some point in their lives.

Albert Townsend pointed out that someone that understands the landscape has unique information. Michael Coleman, a voting consumer member of the ICH, suggested that peer involvement boils down to a homeless peer talking to another homeless person. “I’ve gotten more useful information from homeless people, they seem to know more than organizations who are paid to know.”

Others voiced the concern that personal or confidential information might be required for peers to complete assessments, and clients may be reluctant to provide certain information to a peer, fearing, perhaps rightly, that the information could be misused. However, despite this concern, peer counseling was seen as a good idea and many thought that peers may be better than professionals at finding those who may have fallen through the cracks.

This discussion needs to continue. People for Fairness members were trained in coordinated entry assessment processes last year, we helped created the system. We have insight. The group also discussed what would peers need to assist other in the community. Peers would need training and technology. With planning for the winter season beginning also, it seems this will be a good move to reduce housing issues for close to many in the District, Peers will help other who find themselves in unstable conditions find the path to self sufficiency.