CAB - Thompson Model of Lived Experience Governance

The Thompson Model
of Lived-Experience Governance


Nothing about us without us

These words are often said by people with lived experience of homelessness when advocating for or against homelessness serving activities. But what if rather than just making a space at the table, people with lived experience of homelessness were put in charge of the system? This is the story of what happened when this new approach to governance — one that places people with lived experience of homelessness at the heart of decision making — was put into practice.
We have called it the Thompson Model of Lived-Experience Governance.


Thompson’s homeless community is over 90% Indigenous. Though our Community Advisory Board on Homelessness (CAB) and many of our service providers have Indigenous representation, the composition of the CAB has rarely reflected the demographic it is supposed to serve. But it is at the CAB level that most decisions about funding for homeless serving projects takes place.

Seeing the same organizations at the same tables year after year without any resultant or meaningful change has been disheartening. Not for a lack of effort or good intentions; but most often limited funding and preservation of the status quo was the accepted fallback.

It was time to try something different, to take a leap and the most radical leap we could think of was putting people with lived experience of homelessness in charge. People who have been users of local homeless support systems are far more knowledgeable of the ins and outs, of what really works and what doesn’t, and can provide much needed insights and inputs without being encumbered by the requirements of funders. Perhaps with this crew at the helm, real change would become a reality.

The Thompson Model

In 2021, we were faced with the prospect of implementing a Reaching Home-mandated coordinated-access system. One of the first requirements was a governance model. We decided that the decision-making body of this new governance group must reflect the demographics of the homeless community. Individuals had to have experience of homelessness, be currently in a stable living environment, and be passionate about ending homelessness.

In early 2022, five people who met these criteria were recruited to form the first Lived-Experience Circle (LEC). In 2023, the Coordinated Access Governance Group was formed, consisting of service providers involved in the coordinated access process and the LEC.

By 2024, the group had 14 governance-related meetings under their belt, had participated in discussions resulting in the revision and adoption of 11 policies and procedures for coordinated access, had decided on community priorities, completed OCAP training, participated in CAEH reviews and training, and acted as a shadow CAB — reviewing three sets of call-for-proposals and making recommendations for funding (all of which were adopted by the official CAB).

In the late spring of 2024, we began the transition to using the Thompson Model for our CAB — we anticipate having the first truly functional Lived-Experience CAB in the country in place during the summer of 2024.

Four Essential Components of the Thompson Model

Lived-Experience Circle (LEC) — Decision Makers: composed of five to seven core members (with two alternates) selected based on the demographics of the homeless community. This is the voting body and makes in-camera consensus-based decisions.

Community Organizations — Advisors: composed of members from the homeless serving sector, three levels of government, academia, landlords, police, health services, other community organizations, and community members. This group provides the expertise and information that the LEC needs to make informed decisions. All members of this group are non-voting and sit as ex-officios.

LEC coordinator — Practical Support: usually an individual who looks after the day-to-day logistical, administrative, training, and technical aspects related to the LEC. The coordinator ensures the LEC have the means to get to meetings, the tools and understanding to work with up-to-date software and processes, and acts as the LEC gatekeeper.

Community Entity — Conceptual Support: looks after higher level aspects of support for the LEC, to ensure that they have access to information needed to make decisions about funding requests, to understand the Community Homelessness Report, and other CAB-related activities.

How It Works — An Analogy

Think of how the judicial system is set up with a

  • presiding judge to keep order and ensure the laws are followed,
  • series of witnesses and experts to give testimony,
  • jury of peers to determine a verdict, and a
  • court clerk to keep everything running smoothly (we do not need lawyers).
The community entity (the judge) keeps order and makes sure the LEC (the jury) have an understanding of processes (the laws) they need to make decisions; community organizations (the experts and witnesses) provide all of the relevant information regarding a topic; the LEC (the jury) considers all of the information provided — in this scenario the LEC (the jury) also asks questions and joins in discussions — and reaches decisions while sequestered; and the LEC coordinator (court clerk) focuses on the needs of the LEC.

The process requires the engaged presence of all four components to work.

Why implement the Thompson Model?

  • The CAB becomes truly representative of the community it serves;
  • Conflict of interest is essentially eliminated as the voting body is composed of unaffiliated individuals;
  • New, experienced-based perspectives on addressing problems are explored; and
  • Collaborative “power-with” relationships replace established “power-over” hierarchies.

For more information, contact
Andrea Hatley, CE Coordinator
Fee and Fine
Fee and Fine