Lived expertise advisor Doug McNevin empowers himself and others through research and collaboration

November 14, 2023

By Soumya Satheesan

As a Master’s of Social Work Practicum student with the Calgary team of the Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) Project, I've had the opportunity to learn from individuals with lived experiences of homelessness. With the guidance of 11 lived expertise advisors, the AIRP project aims to build capacity for promising practices that support older people experiencing homelessness in Canada.

I had the honour of interviewing one of these advisors, Doug McNevin, who generously shared his captivating tale of resilience, transformation, and advocacy. I'm thrilled to introduce Doug, a remarkable individual whose life journey and experiences have left an indelible mark in his path.

A Journey of Triumph: Rising Above Homelessness

Doug grappled with the harsh reality of housing precarity and homelessness between 2015 and 2020. These trying years not only tested his endurance but also ignited a fierce determination within him to rewrite the narrative for others facing similar hardships. Doug was employed for 10 years when he found himself physically unable to work due to chronic pain resulting from an injury. The realization that he could no longer work negatively affected Doug’s self-esteem and mental health. At this time, Doug also expressed feelings of loneliness as he believed he could no longer rely on the people in his life to support him. His difficult financial situation due to unemployment and his resulting poor mental health left Doug feeling that he had no options. Ultimately, he decided to leave his permanent housing and with only his bicycle and clothing in tow, Doug found himself living on the streets.  During this period of homelessness, Doug slept outdoors and did his best to provide for himself by collecting cans and returning carts at grocery stores. In the winter months, he slept in the foyer of a bank to survive the harsh cold. Doug recalls that throughout this time, small acts of kindness from strangers kept his spirits alive and reminded him that kind and caring people do exist. Eventually, Doug received life changing support from two friends who advocated for him to get into a seniors' supportive housing residence. With the support from his friends and his own determination Doug was once again housed. Doug embraced this opportunity to the fullest and still resides in this housing.

His journey out of homelessness became the foundation of his commitment to advocating for marginalized communities and amplifying their voices. As Doug began his advocacy journey, he became involved in a research project Harm Reduction Housing for Older People with Experiences of Homelessness (HR HOPEH), in which Doug joined "the Exchange" community advisory group of older adults who meet monthly to create strategies to optimize HR HOPEH programming. With Doug’s support, the advisory group drafted a guide to welcome new residents into the supportive housing complex where Doug currently resides. He now serves as a lived expertise advisor to the Aging in the Right Place partnership—a research project based out of Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary, and McGill University. As an advisor, he uses his lived experience of homelessness to inform important research, ultimately helping guide evidence-based policy and practices.

Doug sees himself as an agent of change—a bridge connecting people facing homelessness with the resources they deserve. He firmly believes that his journey from vulnerability to empowerment equips him to be a catalyst for meaningful transformation guided by justice, inclusivity, and compassion.