(Flickr photo by Hellojenuine)
This month we are reporting on “Home.” What is “home”? Is it a place, or a feeling, or is it just a name? The idea of home permeates our language: there’s home town, home coming, home run, home team, phone home, and home on the range. A home is one’s place of residence. Most people associate it with a sense of comfort and belonging. Although I’m a grown man, honestly, when I think about going “home”, I think about going to see my Mom – to the house where I grew up.
Home is central to our sense of security and community.
So, what happens when we lose our homes? I recently spoke with Associate Professor of Sociology, Beth Fussell. Professor Fussell’s research explores how people from New Orleans coped with the loss of their homes and communities after Hurricane Katrina.
I asked her (how sociologists define) what is “home”:
Fussell: “well when I think about a sociological definition of home the answer I would give is the actual structure of your house is just the sort of place the geographic marker of where you’re located and how your social networks extend from there. That place gives a structure to your days to your daily life that involves contacts with many, many other people; inside your home you’ve got your family, outside you’ve got neighbors and friends who you’re gonna interact with every day because you’ve all located yourself next to each other or nearby one another.
That provides a real structure and predictability to our lives and social networks really are the; in some ways that’s the community that you call home. If you go back to a place but everybody who you know is gone – it’s not the same place.”
People lose homes for a number of reasons: mental health problems, job loss, and addictions and lack of affordable housing are a few of the most prominent ones.
Professor Fussell says that people cope with the loss of home in a wide range of ways, depending partly on their coping skills - but especially on their social and family networks. Those with a working network of people are often able to stabilize fairly quickly.
But some dislocated people become vagabonds. They move from one place to another to another, never staying long enough to establish a community. There were many Katrina victims in this category: because they didn’t have a network outside the community they lost.
Fussell: “There are people who went to 12 or 13 or 14 different places and never found a place to stay for long and then there are people who found more stable locations. Sure, it’s easy to go if you’ve got family nearby in a less affected area and you go and stay with them and that feels really comforting and is probably the best circumstance when you are going through an event like that that’s really quite shocking.”
Fussell says that some people who lose their homes decide they can’t return and rebuild because of bad memories, anxiety, and trauma they still experience when returning to the site of a devastating occurrence like a hurricane or fire.
Fussell: “But some people have been remarkably resilient in just understanding that their home and the contents of their home were just material items and the loss of those material goods has made them realize just how important relationships are and they have actually deepened the understanding of their lives by moving on to thinking about what’s really valuable to them.”
Online now at N-W-P-R dot org, are stories and resources about homelessness in the northwest, including the pitfalls of counting indigent populations and the unique challenges of rural homelessness.
Also posted with this story are links to resources and agencies poised to help those who find themselves on the street. Go to N-W-P-R dor org and click on “Our Northwest”.
I’m Thom Kokenge.