Written by Kaitlyn Widdup, CRHESI Student Collective, Community Engaged Learning placement, Bachelor of Health Sciences, Western University
I had little knowledge of community-based research and peer support in regard to health and homelessness when I began my placement with CRHESI. I spent quite a bit of time researching peer supports, specifically how their lived experiences make them uniquely valuable to those experiencing homelessness. When I was first presented to our project this semester, which involved collaborating with the Peer Navigator Project and other organizations to create a knowledge exchange event on peer-driven work, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about peer work firsthand. I found the experiences and reflections of peer support on the street involved youths to be really empowering after reading the Guide for Peer Supported Work.
I felt nervous about attending our first team planning meeting for this event, but my nerves immediately disappeared because the team members were very welcoming and supportive of my role as a CEL student. The peer work discussions were enriching and contributed to the creation of an amazing event with incredible and open conversations on some of the challenges, rewards, and barriers encountered in peer work.
Through these planning and event experiences, as well as learning more about peer work, I was able to challenge my pre-existing knowledge to include an understanding that peer work is important because it is a level of support that allows for deeper connections to be made due to an understanding of lived experience and the ability to lead with your heart first when supporting individuals. Peer work allows you to help and support people beyond the scope of medicine, while also bridging the gap in the transition from hospital to the community. The event’s speakers and panelists opened my eyes to a fantastic community inside the health industry that you don’t learn about in school.
It is critical that community-based research be used to strengthen peer support networks and ensure transparency in the roles of community and healthcare agencies so that people are aware of the services and resources available to them.
The event was successful in exploring what the future of peer work looks like and what we can do to make it a reality. There was an emphasis on the importance of continuing collaboration between peer workers, coworkers of peer workers, and leaders of peer workers to raise awareness of these critical peer support roles. Finally, what I understood at the outset and what I know now are very much different, but in a very positive way. Not only do I have a better understanding and appreciation for the effort that goes into arranging an event that is both informative and safe, but I also appreciate the importance of peer support and how vital it is on a much deeper level.