Despite all the things that have taken me away from home, whether long trips, years at university or employment, I’ve always had the privilege of feeling I had a home. My parents have never moved, so I have only known one.
This is why I find it such a bewildering prospect that for a rapidly growing number of people across a large number of countries, the idea of enforced homelessness is a reality. The news over the past few months has been dominated by a seemingly overwhelming number of conflicts, with few prospects of achievable end goals or short-term resolution.
In war, civilians are heavily affected as urban areas provide a focus for assets to be appropriated or as civilians themselves are targeted. The result is massive scale population displacement and destruction of the built environment. Such populations may be disconnected from their homes for extensive periods of time, and even if / when they do return, it may be to an unrecognisable environment.
There have been great humanitarian efforts to provide temporary shelters of varying types to meet the needs of disaster relief. However the question arises as to whether it is possible to provide a ‘home’ in these situations. Considering this issue I believe we must address two questions:
What is a home?
In the UK perhaps the most obvious example of a transient population is students. Where they consider home could be represented by where they receive their post, and despite spending years residing in a single student property, for me this remained my parents house.
This exemplifies the key difference between a place I occupy - of which there have been many locations sheltered from the elements and of decent enough quality to feel content - and my ‘home’. My home is the fall back place; it’s the consistent. If I was faced with a crisis, it’s where I’d return and for the most part would be welcome. It’s the place where I store all those possessions that I’ve built up over the years; all those memories.
I’m not sure that a mobile temporary shelter could ever hope to provide these needs. In the favelas of Brazil for example, a key desire is to have a fixed place which can be improved over time, and this is likely for similar reasons.
So what is a home to you? Is having a home important?
I believe it’s extremely important to have a place called ‘home’. It provides a sense of security and grounding for where I am. Although I don’t expect this applies to everyone and there are certainly those who prefer the opposite, I can only rationalise that this is a belief shared by the majority.
Now the situations we’re encountering are already the worst case scenarios for thousands of people. Perhaps the focus of relief efforts lies elsewhere - but is it acceptable to allow generations to exist in a state of enforced homelessness; in a state of limbo?
Could relief organisations ever hope to provide ‘homes’ to displaced populations or is it something that can only be achieved after peace? I fear it is the latter but must continue to hope that we may be able to achieve in some way the former.
Author: M. Crowe