Escaping the Maze – Findings and Strategies from the Supporting Peer Work (SPW) Research Project

This report launch and interactive workshop gave participants the opportunity to learn from the experiences of people who do frontline work in their own communities and make meaningful commitments to social and structural change, led by the members of the SPW steering committee.  

SPW is a community-guided participatory action research project that studies how so-called “low barrier” social service agencies treat workers with lived/living expertise — also known as “peers.” In 2021 and 2022, we interviewed 35 peers and 16 supervisors from the Greater Toronto Area and discovered that most agencies misunderstand peer work. Although many organizations say they value lived/living experience, they build mazes and set traps for peers, forcing them to follow policies and practices that undermine their unique knowledge and skills. Peers are subject to discrimination, neglect, and double standards that block them from making positive change at their organizations and in their lives. These forms of oppression emerge from and reinforce white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, and ableism.

Based on our findings, SPW demands agencies provide peers with living wage and more control over their working conditions, but also that they shift workplace cultures that currently enable and often encourage direct discrimination against Black and Indigenous peer workers, narrow and inappropriate standards of “professionalism,” and criminalizing and classist ideas about drug use. This workshop supported participants in identifying and addressing these dynamics, and build capacity for individuals and organizations to imagine a different kind of social service provision.

Access their new series of published reports

Access the Supporting Peer Work website

Our Presenters and Facilitators

  • Les Harper
  • Suwaida Farah
  • Andre Hermanstyne
  • Lindsay Jennings
  • Madelyn Gold
  • Maria Scotton
  • Michael Nurse
  • Griffin Epstein
  • Julia Walter

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