Losing your home is like losing yourself. Recovery takes a village.
Even though there’s no place like it, we spend our lives searching for things that look, taste, smell and feel like home. But what really makes people happy when they think of home is not the house — it’s the people they knew, the places they loved and the experiences they had while they were there.
Claiming a spot on the planet is part of a human drive to belong while simultaneously distinguishing ourselves from others. We take pride in our neighborhoods, accents and whether or not we’re inclined to say “soda,” “pop” or something else. According to environmental psychologist Susan Clayton, our homes are part of our identities. In many ways, we are where we come from. If you don’t believe us, try telling a Floridian that all oranges are created equal, or convincing a New Yorker that deep dish pizza counts.
Whether you’re a citizen of the world or you’ve never set foot outside your zip code, you probably have strong feelings about your home that affect the way you think, feel and act — and researchers think they know why. Associations we make with our homes cause us to become more socially and politically involved in our communities. When our homes are threatened, or when war, hardship or just plain bad luck causes us to lose them altogether, our emotional attachments grow even stronger. They say home is where the heart is. But if you’ve lost your home, or if you never had one in the first place, where do you keep your heart?
For many millions of people on the planet, this devastating loss of home has become a wide awake nightmare. 13.5 million Syrian refugees have been driven from the homes they loved and, despite the welcoming arms and generosity of many, they face physical, financial and emotional difficulties when they try to settle into their new lives. This astronomical number of displaced people doesn’t even include local micro diasporas of those who find themselves homeless because of job losses, economic hardships or mental illnesses.
It’s usually trauma that leads to homelessness, and homelessness causes even more devastating trauma. For refugees, being severed from everything they knew and loved about their homeland is often more painful than the post-traumatic effects witnessing the violence of war. Post-migration stressors such as social isolation, discrimination, poverty, the loss of social networks, and living in limbo will take a toll on anyone’s mental health. And those who find themselves homeless for other reasons suffer a little more every day they go without shelter, security and, most importantly, a community. Displacement and homelessness are bigger than all of us — but all of us can help.
Charity Navigator’s list of organizations (with ratings) is a great place to start exploring ways to help Syrian Refugees, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has a list of ways you can start supporting the homeless population in your area. Your efforts might be a drop in the bucket, but many drops can create a flood of generosity that changes the stars for people without roofs over their heads.
We collect a lifetime of memories within the walls of our homes. Big or small, humble or extravagant, they provide us with warmth, safety, security and a place to experience joy, hope and personal growth. With a little bit of effort, we can help give people without houses the Thankful Moments that come with having a place to call home.