Our client’s children remained in foster care for months because she was homeless. Each day, she’d wake up, hoping — praying — that a voucher would become available for her to access affordable housing. Despite experiencing a daily dose of disappointment for nearly a year, she remained hopeful.
Then, one day, it arrived. The long-awaited voucher finally materialized and my client quickly found a place to live. Her children would be coming back to her soon. Her family would start working on becoming whole again, ending years of tragedy.
But as we all know, having a house is different than having a home. A house is simply a place to stay. A home brings with it a sense of belonging. A house meets the physical needs of a family. A home goes beyond that, serving their emotional needs as well. A house provides stability. A home is the first step towards something much greater — a sense of community.
So while a voucher provided my client with a house, she and her children deserved more. They needed a home.
So many families involved with the foster care system lack the resources and community to give them what they need. Structural inequities in society — racism and sexism, among others — have left so many in deep poverty and isolated from the support we all need to thrive. They don’t have the money to make a house into a home. They can’t buy furniture. Or wall-hangings. Or toys for the kids. Or books to line their shelves. They don’t have friends and families they can call to help them move. They feel alone all the time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The unfolding of our client’s experience reminded me that we can take steps to create the “beloved community” imagined by Dr. Martin Luther King, one in which we experience kinship with those who have been victims of an unjust society. Our client, rather than navigating a complicated move on her own, received an unexpected offer.
An innovative nonprofit in Ann Arbor — HouseN2Home — which helps families exiting homelessness “create a home that is functional, comfortable and inviting” offered to work with her on the move. Funded entirely through monetary and in-kind donations, HouseN2Home interviews families about their needs, gets members of the community to donate needed items, and recruits volunteers to help with the actual move. Since its founding in 2017, it has served over 350 families, who are referred to the organization by caseworkers at local homeless shelters.
Our client appreciatively agreed to be one of these families, and a coordinator immediately met with her to start the planning process. Volunteers secured furniture and other items for the home. Others baked cookies to await her and her children when they entered their new place. Some shopped for art to line the walls. Others showed up on the move-date to carry the multitude of items into the dwelling and help stage the home. Together, they all showed us what community can look like. Folks working hand in hand to support one another.
So when our client entered her home, unsurprisingly, she and her children were moved to tears. Those tears flowed, not simply because of the many items they had received, but because she was reminded that she mattered. That regardless of the trauma she had experienced and the years in which others had cast her aside, on this day, she was loved. The people who helped her create a home reminded her of the inherent dignity and worth each of us have, regardless of our status in life.
All too often, when we hear stories of children in foster care, our immediate response is to try to save children from their families. But perhaps the secret to creating the world we really want — one in which every member of our community feels valued and respected — is to shift from saving to supporting. From opposition to solidarity. From hate to love. From judgment to understanding.
And perhaps one small way we can start doing that is by helping families create homes out of houses.