At Doorway we are very interested in the power of words especially those relevant to the very core of our frontline work with those who access our services. Words like ‘homelessness’ are very easy to throw around in conversation but what does it really mean to those who have experienced it, are currently experiencing it or are faced with the possibility of experiencing it.
In order to gain a better understanding of the word ‘homelessness’ it is important to flip the entire perspective and reflect on the meaning of the word ‘home’ and therefore appreciate what is missing when one is in fact ‘homeless’.
If we consider the way in which people identify and become attached to places, people, buildings or objects then we are able to see a direct correlation between this attachment and to someone’s personal wellbeing, how they feel about themselves, and their self-identity.
Attachment to a place or a ‘home’ can engender feelings of belonging, safety, security and a permanence to someone’s current situation; all of which enhance feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
However, not all experiences of home can be positive. The physical environment, or being isolated and alone, or relationships with others inside that physical space can all affect how someone feels about their home. And it is possible that people can experience both positive and negative feelings at the same time, for example someone may be in a physically safe place with a roof over their head but might also be in a fearful place due to their physically unsafe relationship with someone else in the property.
Attachment to a place called ‘home’ is also achieved through the possessions that we surround ourselves with – otherwise termed ‘the personalisation of space’. This makes a clear statement of the person that you are, your identity. Often when people are ‘homeless’ or in a temporary ‘home’ or move around regularly this is the part of their identity that can be lost. And this element plays a critical part in their overall psychological wellbeing.
Another way of supporting your identity is through the people that you live with, whether that is family or friends. Not only is one’s self-identity important but also that feeling of belonging to a group is critical to in establishing a ‘home’ environment.
It is very apparent then that the term ‘home’ brings together a number of physical, social and psychological elements any of which can be easily disrupted thereby affecting a person’s wellbeing.
Thinking about attachment then leads on to the direct opposite and we are consequently able to have a better understanding as to how people can feel if these critical elements of belonging or identity are missing due to issues such as regularly moving between places or someone finding themselves to be ‘homeless’.
However, no matter how long any of us have worked in this field, we are never presumptuous enough to claim that we know what our service users are experiencing or feeling without actually asking them. And therefore we recently asked our guests to explore what the word ‘home’ meant to them.
And whilst the majority of our guests wrote down the standard statements that we were expecting we were mightily impressed by their ability to actually express themselves in words that conveyed their hopes, fears, and feelings of self-identity and overall wellbeing.
We were fully aware, before beginning the survey, that such an emotive subject had the potential to cause emotional distress amongst our guests and we therefore ensured that we had a contingency plan in place in case anyone was affected by their experiences.
And surprisingly, everyone was more than happy to partake in our survey except for one person who point blank refused to complete the form. Unfortunately, he really found the process impossible since he, very sadly, had never actually experienced anywhere that he could have called ‘home’ due to a childhood spent in various rather ironically named ‘care homes’.
“Home to me means a sanctuary, somewhere you feel you belong, where you can put down roots, where you can settle and feel at peace. It doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to be yours. Without a place to call home we feel adrift, detached, not quite part of life. That moment when you have your own key to your own placed is the most magical feeling in the world. To lock that front door behind you, and take a deep sigh of relief and know that you have finally landed is at once the most basic need and the most precious gift of all. I am thankful that I and my four children are no longer homeless every single day. 19/08/10 the day I leapt. 19/05/11 the day I landed.”
“I thought they said ‘hope’ but, no, it’s ‘home’ – the two are probably related. I hope my hearing improves then I might get home. I do get home but I’ve never (or rarely) felt ‘at home’ even when I’m there. At least this is how it used to be. Lately I have felt closer, imagining home just over the horizon. Something has shifted, and I think it’s because I feel more at home to myself after a lifetime away. This sounds hopeful.”
“Warmth, security, confidence, options, being able to work, normality.”
“Home sweet home. Home is where you can go to at the end of a hard day’s work and relax and unwind! To other people home may the place where they can shut the door and just say f**k the world and they can do exactly what they want when they want. Some people haven’t got the luxury of calling a place home which is this day and age is sad.”
“A family, a place of warmth, somewhere where you feel safe.”
“Home is somewhere you feel safe, secure and comfortable. A place where you are loved and can just shut the world out. A place where you are contactable, a centre to operate from and it’s where your family and loved ones are or can be and can also feel safe and loved.”
“A safe warm place. A place to belong. A need for everyone. Something there’s not enough of. A need for self. A place to put roots and memories.”
“Home is what you make it.”
“I lived in an abusive, violent home and ended up in a refuge. And I was given the chance of a fresh start on my own with my daughter. Home is now somewhere to feel safe and warm.”
“Home is better than ‘homeless’! But when you have a home you have the spectre of ‘homelessness’ hanging over you, so much responsibility! They give you money to live, great! But then they want half of it back, council tax, bedroom tax etc. gas, electric, water, arrrgggh give me a job! I love my home but I am always worried that I am going to lose it, isn’t ‘home’ supposed to be security etc. I’m perpetually worried.”
“Doorway feels more like home than my flat right now. This is because I pay mortgage but cannot keep up with the maintenance as it is too expensive. I sweat constantly but my flat is cold because I have single glazed windows. I put a plastic curtain on to keep the heat in but the condensation from this has ruined the plaster around the windows. My boiler is on its last legs so I am scared to put the heating on. I feel like trashing what is left of the shithole that I totally regret buying.”
“Safety. Secure. Somewhere to live. To wash and clean dry clothes. Somewhere to close the door and feel safe. Somewhere warm and safe to sleep. Comfort and inner warmth. Belong somewhere.”
“The word home means nothing to me. Perhaps because I moved home about 8 times as a child.”
“A place to rest my head.”
“Sanctuary. Somewhere to live of my own free will. Can do my own thing in private and decide who comes in.”
“I was on the streets for a long time now I have a nice home, with the help from Jephson and Doorway.”
“Home is where the heart is. It also means happiness. Home is safe.”
“Home to me means security which never had. Family son daughter grandchildren which make me happy in my life. Focus responsibility for bills etc. Have thing to do which I enjoy doing and have a home where I can rest and be secure at the end of night start the day again.”
“What most people would say is ‘home’ is where the heart is or wherever I lay my hat that’s my ‘home’. It means Scotland to me and family and friends.”
“Be stronger? Looking after yourself. Warm roof over your head. Behind the door safe.”
“Home means to me that it is a safe place to rest and secure. It is also a permanent roof over your head. It is also a place where you shut out all the dangers outside.”
“Home is where the heart is. Where it’s warm cosy and snug. And you are in from the cold.”
“Yes, home is somewhere to go, a place you put your belongings, make a meal, rest yourself, and pass the time of day. Have some friends round.”
“Everybody needs a place to live, a place of safety and refuge. A home is provided for us from infancy and losing one’s home is a major event in a person’s life. Living at home is a responsibility because sharing a home is like sharing oneself. Home is heavenly!”
“Warmth. Cooking. Laughter. Arguments. Fun. Planning. Music. Sleep.”
“Scratch my balls in peace or pick my nose.”
“Safety. Sanctuary. Security. Home cooking. Sleep. Rubbish. TV. Big mugs of tea or coffee. A place where I can be creative.”
“Home means all comfort and love. Somewhere you can call your castle.”
“Warm. Safety. Freedom. People to talk to.”
“Home to me is the place/area (not necessarily building) where familiar people are and life / background predictable in essentials.”
“Home for me means my safe place, and my security.”