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A House is Not a Home

As we enter into our fourth year delivering housing to single mothers and their children, this shot and today’s events providing services to our families, made me reflect on our housing experience. I find this reflection helpful as our organization sets out to expand our ecosystem of employment, housing and support for single mothers departing from poverty.
Let’s keep it real, there is a vast difference between a house and a home. Yes, you may hear Luther Vandross’ voice in the back of your mind while reading this, I actually did too. But, it’s true, it takes a lot to make a house a home. To me, it takes community.
So, when interviewing the moms for our transitional house, their first reactions are almost always instant and in a familiar pattern – they’re excited they can move out of homelessness, they’re happy it’s located in a nice area and they love that it’s decorated nicely. Once accepted and while living in a co-housing situation with another single mother, what they end up experiencing, is a lot more than ‘living in a nice place,’ they also have the opportunity to experience community. And there’s a lot to that especially after the honeymoon phase. You know that phase, after the newness has worn off and you ‘see,’ the other person.
It takes me back to when I was teaching single moms in the midst of welfare reform. In the classroom, many of the women knew each other from their respective neighborhoods and at times, would decide they didn’t like each other. Or, they would decide that they did like each other. But then, over time, after the newness of being in the class the first two or so weeks, life would unfold situations and experiences that would give each woman the chance to grow individually and with one another.
After a few cohorts, I found it necessary to ‘build community,’ at the very beginning of each new class, in order to create a neutral space each woman could feel safe in, safe enough to become vulnerable with herself and then with one another, so deeper learning and growth could occur. Once community clicked in, that classroom became more than a classroom, it became home.
And so it is with providing housing. Without community, the house is not a home, it is void, something is missing.
With community, and in context of co-housing, each woman has the opportunity to learn how to respect herself and others, check her assumptions and judgments, learn about boundaries, work together on individual and common goals, engage and learn through conflicts, work towards solutions and just plain grow. And on top of it all, she has the opportunity to model all of these fantastic learnings to the folks that constantly their eyes on them, their children.
And while it seems as if the only thing that is taking place is housing, the bigger win for each single mom is that if she is up to the task, she can come out knowing herself more, and gets the chance to see aspects of her own personality, thoughts and actions. When living in community, not only is there the opportunity for her to learn about others, she also gets the chance to learn about herself ~ through the reflection of her experience with another mother.
And that’s where the true power lies, in a co-housing space in which a single mother can grow, learn, fail, accept, adapt and display compassion for herself as she turns around and gives the same to another woman & mother. And isn’t this simply a microcosm of what it is to co-exist in our world?
This is what we are striving for at urban university, the experience to offer single mothers the promise of independence and interdependence. And from this place, collective growth can occur and sprout out to their larger communities, solutions can be created for issues that affect their block, their city, their world.
And then, and only then, through these acts of everyday community, can a house truly become a home