What does it take to ‘feel at home’ rather than just being ‘housed’?
CIH policy and practice research officer, Yoric Irving-Clarke, writes on his recent speaking engagement at the first anniversary event for a recovery hub for street drinkers in Leicester, where he spoke about the concept of housing and home.
Recently I was asked to speak at the first anniversary celebration event for No. 5 Hill Street in Leicester. Run by Inclusion Healthcare, No. 5 is a recovery hub and safe space for street drinkers and provides therapeutic activities and support, encouraging them to make positive choices about their lifestyles. It’s a brand-new facility in the city centre replacing the Anchor Centre (on Dover Street), following significant investment from the City Council on renovating the building.
And that is, kind of, what I was asked to speak about – what does it take to ‘feel at home’ rather than just being ‘housed’? My key thoughts are summarised in this blog.
I asked the audience to consider the image of the ‘haunted house’ and why it is so powerful? Countless films and TV programmes are based upon hauntings – why is it such an unsettling image? Audience members said that ghosts might be malign or threatening, they move things about when you don’t want them to and perhaps most importantly, they are uninvited – or maybe you are to them?
Either way, that we have control over what happens in our homes is really important.
When I asked directly for words that people associated with ‘home’, people answered ‘safety’, security’, ‘familiarity’, ‘where your family’ are, where you keep things that are important to you and a place that you can exclude others from. These themes are familiar from CIH’s Rethinking Social Housing report, of course. We then spoke about things that can make you feel as if your home isn’t your home – is it possible to be ‘homeless at home’?
Responses to this question touched on abusive parents, siblings and other domestic abuse, living some distance from friends, family or a familiar place. If someone were able to lift your house from its foundations and place it in another city, would that still be home? Even if it were still your house on the inside? And, conversely, if you were thinking about moving your possessions about in your home, but someone else did it before you had the chance, what would you feel about that? Even if the outcome was the same?
I like to shoehorn off-beat references into these sessions, so I asked them about Harry Potter and his home. At the start of the story Harry lives in the cupboard under the stairs in the house of his Aunt and Uncle. Even though this is Harry’s ‘home’, is it home to him, in any way? Does he ‘belong’ there? Contrast this with Hogwarts where Harry has friends, familiarity and adult role models in Dumbledore, Hagrid and Minerva McGonagall - belonging. Its even worth being at Hogwarts, for Harry, despite the growing presence of Voldemort. And isn’t that what ‘home’ should be? Somewhere we can gather the strength to face the potential malevolence of the world outside?
Home is predictable. We know where things are, we have a routine, our lives are in order. The world is chaotic. When we step outside our home, anything can happen. Home is where we are ‘complacent’ – to be well housed is to not think about it; because there is no need to. Incidentally, I think the moving staircases at Hogwarts represent the possibility for chaos; even in a magic castle, everything is not perfectly ordered.
The point has been made before that when we talk about housing policy, we usually mean how much we should build, what we should build and where. We would do well to consider ‘home’ within these discussions too.