Thursday, May 26, 2011

Home is ...

Through the years, I've read a lot of great books. There are two that stand out as being key to my stance regarding staying put, which is do what you have to do to save your home - even (especially) if it's in the suburbs, because if you have a place to live, everything else comes a little more easily.

The first eye-opening book was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which relates the (fictitious) story of the Joad family from Oklahoma who lose their home (to bank foreclosure) in the 1930s and, like a good many of their neighbors, travel to California in the hopes of finding work. They don't find much work, and worse, they find a lot of contempt and some wicked hard times.

The second book was Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Eliot Liebow, which is a look into the lives of several homeless women who frequented the shelters in the Washington D.C. area. As Liebow says, they are homeless because they don't have a place to live, but not for any of the other *reasons* that are often given.

And Liebow's assertions are echoed by Brianna Karp, who, in 2008, after finding herself unemployed (like a lot of people in this country), ended up living in a trailer in a Wal-Mart parking lot. She talks about the kinds of people she has met, most of whom don't fit the stereotype that the rest of us like to assume of those who wear the albatross called homeless. Ms. Karp has written a memoir about her life as a homeless person entitled The Girl's Guide to Homelessness. I'm thinking it might be a good addition to the home library (... and I have a birthday coming up ;).

In the USNews article written about Ms. Karp, she talks about how difficult it is to be homeless - and for things that we might not really consider such an issue. In particular, she talks about how hard it was to maintain a healthy diet. And think about it. If she's, essentially, living on the streets and has no place to store whole ingredients and no place, really, to cook food, what are her options for eating? Mostly fast-food or processed food. The fact that she couldn't, reasonably, expect to have a garden compounds the problem, and the end result is that those who are homeless are even more dependent on the industrial machine than those of us who have our homes in the suburbs (or wherever).

If I own my home, in the suburbs, I have considerably more options, including, if I I find myself unemployed, I have the space to consider starting a home-based busienss so that I can have some income, and I have the space for a garden, so that I can grow some of my own food, and I have the storage space to buy food at the cheaper, bulk rate, rather than spending 40% of my income buying single-serve, nutritionally poor, snack packs.

I actually have a lot of respect for Ms. Karp, for her resilience, her ingenuity, and her strength. I hope that her book becomes a best-seller, or at very least, that she'll make enough money to purchase a small plot of land where she can (legally and permanently) park her little trailer, and then, perhaps, she can add some solar panels (for free electricity), and plant a small garden so that she can grow her own food, and since she's in California, maybe she can build an outdoor kitchen where she can cook some great stuff to eat rather than depending on Wonder for her daily bread.

She says her book doesn't have a "happy ending", but I submit that her story is just beginning (she's only twenty-four), and perhaps she's a little luckier than the rest of us to have had this happen to her now, when she's young enough to learn the lessons and apply them to the rest of her life.

She's learned the value of having a place to call "home", and she's learned the value of "home" lies, not in how many digits follow the dollar sign, but rather, in stability.

As I say in my book, the bottom line is, if one has shelter, everything else comes little more easily.


  1. Very good point… but "shelter" can mean more than a roof over your head. Many of the First Nations got along pretty well without permanent dwellings like you or I might assume when we hear the word "shelter" — but they had their communities to hunt, gather, and cook together. Where one might fail, another might succeed. So I would think even if one was "homeless," an organized group of people could live — maybe even comfortably — if they work together and pool their resources. In that case, "shelter" becomes the community itself rather than the roof.

  2. This is good advice, and much of the reason why I'd like to get at least some land as soon as possible that I can do what I want with. Since I'm just finishing my degree I'm not sure where I'll be next year, which makes things a bit more difficult, but this is something that's always on my mind. Having a home, as you suggest, gives a lot more options than might otherwise be available.

  3. Really great blog. My friends referred me your site. Looks like everyone knows about it. I'm going to read your other posts. Take care. Keep sharing.

  4. Well said. With a home and some where to grow food we're a mile ahead if the crap hits the fan. It's a pretty fundamental human longing to have somewhere to hang our hat. Unfulfilled our lives will have a far different character.