Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a long time know that my husband and I became homeless, in a manner of speaking, in mid-February. I say “in a manner of speaking” because we weren’t evicted but displaced by a fire. So, thanks to insurance, we’ve had a place to stay.
After countless complications, permits and inspections, we’re finally going home. Which has got me thinking again about what it means to not have a home–no place to live that you feel is your own, a center you can come back to for as long as you want.
The definition here captures what I’ve learned first-hand. Being homeless means having no rock-bottom sense of safety and stability. And this is a basic human need.
A new brief by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network reminds us of the many lasting effects homelessness has on children. It leads off with the profound destabilizing experience of becoming homeless–the impact of “loss of community, routines, possessions, privacy, and security.”
The report goes on to detail the additional trauma children and their parents can suffer due to shelter living, the stresses of needing to reestablish a home and problems that could have precipitated their homelessness, e.g., acute poverty, parental illness.
Many studies indicate that these have serious, lifelong impacts on children. But another recent report suggests that residential instability itself plays a role, whether children spend time in a shelter or just moving from one temporary housing situation to another. The effects are greatest on very young children.
I wonder whether this doesn’t have something to do with the fact that frequent moves are more destabilizing for them. A young child, after all, doesn’t really understand what’s happening or have an adult grasp of the temporary or the future. It’s just one sudden loss after another. Consider too that the losses can include caregivers and parental attention–even loss of parents themselves.
All of which makes me doubly aware of how fortunate I’ve been–and how skewed our national priorities are when we’ve got a $3 trillion budget and well over 500,000 homeless families.