Little home, lucky home, big home


“Have you ever paused to contemplate the idea of home?” asks Robyn Haynes in her blog, Big Dreams for a Tiny Garden. On a trip to Outback Queensland, she felt a deep connection with the land, and her sense of home expanded from house, garden and family to something much broader—Australia. (I’ve distorted her thought flow by summarising it — please read the original article for context.)

We all have at least two homes: a tiny home and a vast home. The lucky ones also have a roof over their heads, a location where they live, and a country.

Body. Roof. Neighbourhood. Country. Planet.

Our tiniest home is, you could argue, our body and we all have one of those. I am my body and I live in my body. When all is well, I feel at home in my body, and we take care of each other. (Mostly.) Difference is, I never leave this mini-home, even when I go to sleep.

My apartment, the roof over my head, brings me great delight. I step in the door and am instantly at home, meaning comfortable, relaxed, at peace—and grateful. But now, even New Zealand, the original model of a working welfare state, faces a crisis of homelessness. About one in 100 people here do not have a place to call their own. They are moving between temporary and insecure accommodation such as garages, garden sheds, cars and caravan parks, night shelters, emergency housing, and refuges. This is terrifying, mystifying, heartbreaking.

We have a neighbourhood if we have a permanent roof over our heads, no matter how humble. Then our home includes a town or a suburb or a province where we move around at will. But even a familiar neighbourhood is denied to the 40.8 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes to another part of their country.

Most people belong a country, usually the country they were born in. At times we feel a bond that is profound, even spiritual. For voluntary travellers, a trip away triggers a surge of patriotism as we suddenly see what makes our odd little country unique. (I’m a Kiwi.) We leave, we return, we love our home regardless of its shortcomings.

I can return to my country, that’s the thing. But that is not an option for nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Children!

The only home for these people is the one we all share, the glorious, the hospitable, the fragile planet Earth. Is that any consolation for a refugee?

So Robyn, thank you for your question — I have been contemplating the idea of home.


The idea of home: Robyn Haynes

UNHCR: Figures at a glance (image from UNHCR)


5 thoughts on “Little home, lucky home, big home

  1. Robyn Haynes says:

    Rachel you have raised a very important aspect of ‘home’.

    It’s almost incomprehensible for those of us watching the flood of refugees fleeing from conflict from the comfort of our own safe havens to imagine not having a home. Or even closer to home, the people who are living rough in their cars or parks nearby. But for quirks of fate or accidents of birth, this could be you or I, for some of them are educated, older women.

    Much has been said about these appalling statistics and what resolutions to such complex social and political situations might be. Realistically I believe there will always be displaced and homeless people for a variety of complicated reasons. Perhaps a new approach is required.

    Recently in Australia, two young men were awarded Young Australians of the Year for their enterprising idea of assisting the homeless at a practical level by providing mobile laundry services. It’s called Orange Sky.They have recently expanded this to a mobile bathroom offering hot showers to those on the streets. For years other charities have been providing food and even library services manned by volunteers.

    These services provide more than practical help. They offer a sense of connection, of community. They say to the homeless, ‘we care, we are here for you’. They offer a sense of home to those without one.

    On my morning walks through neighbourhood parks I encounter many who are sleeping rough. Swags are stretched out on the ground or park benches, their owners’ meagre belongings in shopping trolleys parked beside them. I hurry past, eyes averted, being aware of the huge part drugs play in homelessness.

    One day, a young man called out to me. It was some random remark I didn’t quite hear. Our eyes met warily. I lifted my arm in a wave and called out ‘good morning’. I was rewarded with a beaming smile and a cheery wave. I continued my walk in deep reflection about the fear of ‘other’, how it can isolate and marginalise, and of what that reflects back to us. Perhaps this is part of the problem. I know I can do better.

    Rachel, thank you for linking my post but more, for the opportunity to contemplate further the meaning of home.

    1. Robyn, your post triggered my thoughts so this is spiralling! I am so impressed by the actions of Orange Sky. It’s in the same spirit as initiatives that sprang up in Christchurch after the earthquakes, Gap Fillers and Greening the Rubble: practical, small scale, humane, morale boosting, and valuable in themselves.

      1. Robyn Haynes says:

        I find the same happens to me with this whole blogging exercise. It can be so stimulating when I encounter fellow bloggers like you. I just love the conversations and where they lead. me. I am so heartened by the initiatives humans are capable of in the face of adversity. Like your earthquake initiatives. I’m even more impressed that a strong social conscience survives despite the weary cynicism world events and politics evoke in many of us (picture me with a weary hand raised). So thanks for the stimulating subjects you raise Rachel.

  2. The ‘fear of other’ is what keeps us at arm’s length from the homeless. I know this because even I, who pride myself on being enlightened and generous to a fault, hesitate to acknowledge them when I see them on the street. I give them money, but I hesitate to make much contact. The problem, like world peace, seems to be out of control, and that frightens and immobilizes us, I think!

    1. Perceptive indeed! I’m learning as a Soup Kitchen volunteer. We’re told what to do if we meet our customers on the street: make eye contact and acknowledge them only if that’s what they want; never give money; give food if you like, or nothing. And leave anything more to the professionals. I really appreciated getting such clear guidance. By the way, when you see destitute people regularly in the dining room, they cease to be other.

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