Housing crisis – it’s a term we have been hearing so much lately that it’s become almost cliche. We hear about prices skyrocketing, housing stock not growing fast enough to keep pace with demand, and concerns about powerful investors buying up homes at unprecedented rates. We know this is on almost everyone’s minds, but how is it affecting the people with disabilities, who have historically had very little control over where they live and extremely limited access to income?

These are questions we’ve been asking through our Community Mapping campaign,  gathering stories and data about what’s working and what is not across our province. So, when we were invited by the BC Non Profit Housing Association to moderate a Lived-Experience Panel at Housing Central, their annual conference, we gladly accepted and made it a priority to centre the presentation around the stories of people with disabilities that are advocating for solutions. 

We recruited three incredible housing advocates – Lauren Simpson, Larissa Gunkel and Alexis Baird. All three have been powerful advocates for inclusive housing and we were privileged to work with them and share their perspectives. The panelists met regularly over the course of a few months leading up to the event, discussing what each of them would like to say about their experiences, writing (and re-writing) a script and practicing everyone’s pacing and delivery. There were accessibility considerations to be worked out too. For example, Alexis uses a power chair and there were lots of arrangements that had to be made in order for her to  travel from her home in Nanaimo to Vancouver and participate fully in the panel. 

Once we’d prepared our content and practiced until all the panelists were feeling confident (if still a little anxious), the day finally came for the panelists to present to an intimidatingly large ballroom of over 1700 guests at Housing Central. The panelists were introduced by Ross Chilton, CEO of Community Living BC, and the panel was moderated by our Executive Director Karla Verschoor and housing advocate Lauren Simpson, who started us off with a presentation about some impressive milestones in her housing advocacy career, including being featured in a documentary, joining the Housing Accessibility Committee for the BC Liberal Party, and winning a Women of Distinction award from the YWCA. 

Our panelists went on to discuss their perspectives on questions focused on key elements of housing equity: choice and control, affordability, accessibility, sustainability and diversity. There were some laughs, more than a couple hard-hitting truths, and lots of heartfelt stories about the role inclusive housing has played in the lives of these three women – both the empowerment of being supported to find it, and the distress of it being denied.

Some of Alexis’ remarks were particularly compelling: “It is so important to make big decisions for yourself because once you are in it …it is hard to get out. Don’t let other people decide where you live. It is your life. I now live by my own schedule, not anyone else’s.”

Larissa left the audience with a powerful bit of truth as well: “The support you need should not dictate where you get to live. I am flexible, but support also needs to be flexible for everyone…Housing should be viewed as a right before we view it as an investment.”

Unsurprisingly, these three incredible women received a standing ovation, and some audience members were visibly moved by the discussion; a few people could be seen wiping away tears as the panel spoke. Musqueam elder Shane Pointe noted in his speech that hearing these three speak was the highlight of his day and that he was honoured to share the stage with them –  we couldn’t agree more.


This article was featured in the latest edition of our monthly newsletter, Inclusion in Action. Subscribe today to receive regular updates with stories like this.

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