The opening lines of John Howard Payne’s 1823 opera, “Clari, Maid of Milan”, begins with, “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam/Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 41% of today’s homeless are families. It is these families that are no longer familiar with the word “home”, and with today’s economy, there are more and more families on the edge due to foreclosures, evictions, job loss, and depleted affordable housing. Disruption of the American family is devastating, but with the help of a shelter, a family’s lives can be put back together. Yet “home, sweet home” is really what is needed in order to secure other things, such as jobs and education, for a family to succeed.
In 2006, my own family was living on the financial edge. With no safety net and existing week-to- week, the rent we owed was increasing dramatically due to a lack of funds and affordable housing. Finally, in February, we were evicted and were forced to leave our home and the city I grew up in. Abandoning everything we had accumulated over a 17-year period, we packed one bag per family member and, with a feeling of shell shock, walked out the door to a new city and a new life. We were blessed not to be catapulted into the streets like some families; however, we hesitantly ventured through the doors of a family shelter. A place that sheltered us, yet it was not our home; it was our refuge, where we contributed domesticated affection to our household and our family. In time, we did manage to move back to Salem, MA, and I recall my husband painting our daughter’s bedroom her favorite color–pink. It became a place where, after a long day, we could rest our tired bodies and tired souls, a place where we could sleep at night feeling safe and secure, a place where we could have meals together and have our pets that we loved. Most importantly it was a place we could call ours to decorate with the personal items of our lives; it was home.
Throughout the years we have encountered the bangs and bumps that life gives to us all. Most of our hardship was caused by our financial burden–having to pay our rent at times became one of our main stressors. With no Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program available for us, we did manage, yet it was an uphill battle that to this day I wonder how we survived. My children are now grown and on their own and my husband and I are currently empty nesters that still live on one income. But at least we are housed in an affordable studio; a place that we feel and a place that we still call home. Home is a physical and emotional place, yet having a home also creates self-actualization through jobs, education, and health services which help all of us as individuals to reach our potential.
Reaching one’s potential is necessary for adults, and especially for children who will grow into adults who will benefit both themselves and society. Physiological needs such as air, water, food, clothing, and shelter are literal needs for human survival, at the most basic level. The next level includes physical safety and financial and personal security. Only when all of these physical needs are met will everything else fall into place, such as friendship, intimacy, family life, and motivation. Personal motivation is the inspiration for employment, furthering one’s education, and increasing one’s sense of empowerment.
I personally witnessed inspiration in my daughter as she grew into a young woman who dreamed of working as a hair stylist. I remember her daily trips from Revere, MA to Salem, MA, via the MBTA bus and then from Salem to Middleton via the school bus to attend school at the North Shore Technical High School. Somehow, my daughter kept the pace of those daily travels for almost a year until we moved back to Salem permanently. My young daughter developed motivation in her own room that was painted pink, with her personal items decorating her shelves and her walls. I know she succeeded in her dream of working at a salon and obtaining her Massachusetts State License because her potential was fulfilled in a place called home.
American families need a place to call home, a permanent place to live so that everything else like jobs, education, and health services will follow. When an individual’s needs are met, then and only then are they able to meet the needs of others. Most importantly, their needs being met leads to success for themselves and for us all. True success will be achieved when homeless families have housing that is affordable and a real home where their hearts reside.
Tammy Anne Callahan-Callanan is a mother and grandmother who lives in Salem. She majored in creative writing and English literature at Salem State University. She writes columns regularly for the, sparechangenews, Salem Gazette and other publications. Find her on Facebook by searching for Salempoet’s Writing Page.