When my daughters were pre-teens I decided to volunteer with an organization that worked with troubled teens.
One of my first meetings with a director of one of their programs was at a building where they provided short-term housing for youth in crisis because of relationships at home. On this day, as I walked up the stairs towards the building, a young girl was exiting. She saw me, stopped and asked me where I was going.
“I’m going to meet someone,” I replied.
She grabbed one of my hands, dug her nails into the flesh and stated forcefully, “You can’t go in there.”
As calmly as I could, I looked into her eyes and said, “Please let go of my hand.”
She kept digging her nails into my flesh so deeply she drew blood. And all the while she kept looking into my eyes and repeated, “You can’t go in there.”
I calmly kept looking into her eyes as I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”
She paused, looked at me and I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”
Finally, she did.
She walked away and I walked into the building.
Shaken by the encounter, I told the man I was meeting with what had happened.
He sighed and smiled sadly and told me that she had just been informed she was going home that afternoon. She didn’t want to and had probably done what she did to draw attention to herself and to create a situation where they wouldn’t let her leave yet.
How tragic that home did not feel like a safe haven for her. How sad she wanted to stay and not return to her family.
I’ve thought about that young woman many times over the intervening 20 years since that incident. I’ve wondered what happened to her. Where she ended up. Did she have a safe, secure home today?
Yesterday at a meeting, we were asked to consider the question, “What does ‘homefullness’ mean to you?”
Is ‘homefullness the opposite of ‘homelessness’? As in, instead of being considered ‘less than’ because you don’t have a home, you’re full of possibilities and potential because you have a home.
For me, it’s a word bigger than just a place to lay your head, to come home to everyday. It’s about belonging. Security. Feeling welcomed, wanted. Safe. A place where dreams are planted and love grows.
I work in a world where home is none of those things for the people we serve because home is not part of their reality.
For many, home doesn’t even feel like a dream because the only vision of home they have is what they’ve seen on some TV comedy show where everyone laughs at the exploits of the main character and everything always ends up well.
In their worlds, things don’t always end up well. In fact, their entire existence has been built upon the reality that nothing ends up well for them. Nothing. Ever.
And I wonder… how many of the parents we serve today are like that young girl I encountered on those steps many years ago?
Without ever having known what it means to feel safe at home, without understanding how home, and family, are nurturing, caring, safe spaces, how do you create ‘home’ where you children feel safe and nurtured?
Child homelessness is a complex issue. But there is one fundamental fact that cannot be ignored. Without a safe and caring home, a child will struggle to find a safe and caring place to belong in the world. In that struggle, they will act out in order to get the things their heart so desperately yearns for.
It is only human. We act out when we don’t know what else to do to get the things we most desperately want. To feel safe. To know Love. To have a sense of Belonging.