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Inaugural Service User Forum

On the 10th of October 2022 World Homeless Day, Sophia held its inaugural Service User forum. The day brought together residents of Sophia, staff, Board Members and other experts by experience from the SAOL Project and Midlands Simon Community.

Sophia, founded 25 years ago began with a vision where the needs and requests of people who were homeless were at the centre of that vision, the need for a home and with that home the wrap around supports needed to break the cycle of homelessness. The Inaugural Service User Forum held in Cork St this October aimed to begin the process of building local and national frameworks for greater Sophia Service User participation and engagement in a meaningful and sustainable way.

The opening address given by Jean Quinn D.W (Founder of Sophia) spoke on the theme of Don’t speak about us without us Jean works as Executive Director at the UNANIMA International at the United Nations at New York where even in that complex structure she has ensured that people with lived experience of extreme poverty have been empowered to come from all over the world and speak directly to different groupings at the United Nations. Jean will share the impact that made on policy development as why homeless services and policy in Ireland could be improved and enriched if people with experience of homeless where included as active and equal participants in homeless services.

Nothing about us without us, is a slogan which gets to the very core of why people who use a service should be at the centre of any discussion on how that service should be run, it leads to better outcomes for the people supported, better service delivery and more ethical and inclusive organisations. This was evident in the presentations from Experts by Experience during the day. Midlands Simon Community's Service User forum presented on their many years of experience of engagement, participation and representation. The SAOL Project with the wonderful SAOL Sisters gave insights to how their extraordinary organisation works with and alongside the women who use the service in Dublin.

Tony O’Riordan (C.E.O of Sophia) outlined that for Sophia “the people that have real and lived experience of homelessness should be the experts on what type of homeless services are developed and Sophia has embarked on ensuring firstly that it listens to and acts on the feedback of the people it supports but also ensures that people with lived experience of homelessness can influence homeless policy at a local, regional and national level. In Sophia’s experience there is a major difference in the insight that comes from someone that has actually experienced homelessness and someone who is an advocate on behalf of the homeless but has no lived experience of the issue, people with lived experience have insights into how they have been treated in homeless services and that is qualitatively different to people that have observed homelessness”.

Sophia is deeply committed to ensuring that meaningful participation of Service Users is supported by the organisation across Ireland. The Board of Directors in their 5 year strategy 2021 to 2025 included this as a core aim. The Inaugural Forum was the first step on the road which builds on the work that residents and staff have been carrying out at a local level.

A huge thanks to everyone who gave their time, insights and expertise on the day.

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