Lots of people have an opinion on homelessness. John Brady can talk about the ordeal with “lived experience.”
Director of Lived Experience Advisers, Brady heads up a speakers bureau of people who, like himself, have spent a part of their life unsheltered on the streets. “My perspective on homelessness was completely different up until the point I became homeless,” Brady says. “My expectation was that there was going to be a safety net and services. My opinion was that I spent a lot of money on taxes, and there better be something. I found out that, effectively, there was nothing.”
Lived Experience Advisers is funded by the nonprofit Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego. FTEH San Diego is under the umbrella of Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties. (Until recently, Catalyst was called San Diego Grantmakers.) “John is an excellent advocate—he’s very professional,” says FTEH San Diego director Amy Denhart. “He works well with elected officials and with other advocates. John has good perspective, is solutions-based and very engaged with the community.”
“To have an effective response to homelessness, the system has to include the people we are trying to serve,” Denhart adds. Brady has definitely worked his way into the system. He’s got a seat on the Continuum of Care advisory board, which accepts funding and recommends how federal and state money gets spent by San Diego’s Regional Task Force on Homelessness.
Brady also serves locally on:
The steering committee for San Diego’s Homeless Court.
The Metropolitan Transit System’s Security and Passenger Safety Community Advisory Group.
The board for Amikas, which focuses on low-income housing for women and children.
The advisory committee for Yes In God’s Back Yard (YIGBY), which oversees construction of low-income housing on faith-based properties.
Nationally, Brady is part of Community Solutions’ 100-city Built for Zero movement. In 2022, Brady and Lived Experience Advisers was hired by the Downtown San Diego Partnership to advise on a proposed idea to create a Safe Village pilot program. DSDP members are primarily in the business sector; the Safe Village program hopes to serve local seniors, Brady says.
“John’s insight and expertise have been invaluable to make sure this proposal creates a safe, affirming space that meets the basic human needs of the people it hopes to serve,” says DSDP president and CEO Betsy Brennan.
It Could Happen to Anybody
Nobody could have predicted Brady would experience homelessness. He was raised in a conservative, upper-middle class family, graduated from the University of Central Florida, and got a Master’s degree from Rollins College. Brady worked at Disney in the entertainment production division and was the lead tech on the laser and fireworks show at Epcot Center. His business career took him to Texas, where he worked for a consulting agency and dealt with companies like Southwest Airlines and Procter & Gamble.
After he moved to California, Brady started his own entertainment and production company. He was also an event promoter and a nightclub promoter. While living in Los Angeles, he was the victim of a senseless act of violence. It landed him in the hospital with 15 stitches. Another incident left him paranoid. He started self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Money slipped away. He lost a home, and a boat he owned and was living on became unmoored during a storm and was wrecked beyond repair.
His first night sleeping unsheltered occurred outside the new downtown San Diego Central Library. Brady says his personal experience was eye-opening. He fought his demons, put his life back together, and now advocates for others. In fact, he’s building a stable of advocates at Lived Experience Advisers. Brady and a growing list of trained speakers—all with lived experience—collectively serve on more than 20 boards and organizations.
LEA has addressed the San Diego City Council more than 50 times and spoken at more than 20 San Diego County Board of Supervisors meetings. The list of speaking engagements at community groups and clubs continues to grow. It’s a hot-button issue. Misinformation abounds. Any organization interested in booking a speaker with first-hand knowledge of life on the streets can reach out to livedadvisers.org.