Home-less-ness. Un-homed. Being without “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”
Where did you sleep last night? Was it in a warm, dry, and safe place?
If you were asked to summarize the essential meaning of home to you in one word or in a brief phrase, what would it be?
As human beings we have to have rest–and sleep–in order to not only thrive, but survive. Sleep is the ultimate letting go and trusting that we will not be disturbed, that we will be okay until we awaken. The trust we have through undisturbed sleep generates hope.
What does it mean to be homeless when home was never a safe place? In such cases, it is not possible for young people to ‘runaway’ from home; they can only run towards home.
Housing, ‘home-ing,’ is a form of health care. The people at the National Health Care for the Homeless Council summarize this connection with the following:
- “Poor health (illness, injury and/or disability) can cause homelessness when people have insufficient income to afford housing. This may be the result of being unable to work or becoming bankrupted by medical bills.
- Living on the street or in homeless shelters exacerbates existing health problems and causes new ones. Chronic diseases, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, mental health problems and other ongoing conditions, are difficult to manage under stressful circumstances and may worsen. Acute problems such as infections, injuries, and pneumonia are difficult to heal when there is no place to rest and recuperate.
- Living on the street or in shelters also brings the risk of communicable disease (such as STDs or TB) and violence (physical, sexual, and mental) because of crowded living conditions and the lack of privacy or security. Medications to manage health conditions are often stolen, lost, or compromised due to rain, heat, or other factors.”
For those of us fortunate enough to be currently housed and ‘homed’ in a ‘fixed, regular, and adequate [and safe] nighttime residence’–for those of us who are able to have adequate, safe, undisturbed, restorative-of-hope sleep–let us all remember (or imagine if we’ve never experienced it) what it is like for people who go without these essential human needs. And let us use our rest, our trust, our hope to fix this ‘wicked problem’ of homelessness.
- The blue tarp tapestry shown in this photo is from my Soul Stories project, and specifically from the ‘Way Out; Way Home’ installation art (in progress). I ask people who view/participate in this installation to contemplate the meaning of home for them. They then are invited to write or draw the word or phase on a strip of paper, the strips are then added to the blue trap tapestry wallhanging weaving.
- The connection between sleep and trust and hope was inspired by my current research for the Soul Stories project on the role of narrative in health and healing in the context of homeless. Specifically, this concept comes from anthropologist Hirokazu Miyazaki’s essay/chapter, “Hope in the Gift–Hope in Sleep” in Anthropology and Philosophy: Dialogues in Trust and Hope, edited by Sune Liisberg, Esther Oluffa Pedersen, and Anne Line Dalsgard, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015).
- I want to acknowledge the generous support of the University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding support for my Soul Stories public scholarship digital humanities project.